Worrying at the small things in life is a common challenge for many people. However, when worry is excessive, uncontrollable and interferes with daily functioning for longer than six months, it is known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are overly concerned with health issues, lack of money, interpersonal relationship problems, work challenges, etc. They feel apprehensive, tense or fearful so much that eventually they develop the physical symptoms of anxiety: sweating, tension headaches, upset stomach, heartburn (reflux/gastritis), frequent urination/diarrhea, impulsive emotional outbreaks, memory loss, insomnia or fatigue.
In addition to the generalized anxiety (GAD) described above, the other anxiety types are:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Recurring worry (obsessions) about something that hasn’t happened that is unlikely (you might hurt someone); uncontrollable compulsions to do something repeatedly (washing your hands many times/day).
- Panic disorder: Unexpected attacks (lasting 10-30 minutes) of intense panic or fear, triggered by fearful circumstances or thoughts. This surge of almost overwhelming fear can bring symptoms of feeling crazy, nearly passing out, shortness of breath, being choked, trembling, nausea and even chest pain resembling a heart attack. Agoraphobia is commonly accompanies this problem, making the victim feel unsafe or uncomfortable with vast openness or crowdedness (often triggering trigger a panic attacks).
- Phobia: Exaggerated fear of objects (for instance, spiders) or situations (like heights) that are of no legitimate threat. Avoidance reinforces the phobia.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Deep, fearful disturbance from a previous traumatic or life-threatening event. Flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, withdrawing from relationships or being easily startled are all symptoms of the emotional trauma from the lasting memory of the event.
- Social anxiety: Fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, such that you cannot comfortably attend social gatherings or be on stage.
Birth Of Anxiety
Fear can be defined as False Expectations Appearing Real (FEAR). It is the anticipation of something you wish to avoid, to the point that you really believe it will inevitably happen and you’ll suffer the undesired outcome. Moreover, fear is actually the antithesis of love (not hate, as I believed when I was a child).
Here’s how fear ends up as the physical illness we know as anxiety:
Even though the things you fear usually don’t ever happen, if you entertain fearful and worrisome thoughts long enough, you create worries that enter your physical body as anxiety symptoms.
In their simplest forms, fear and worry are simply part of being human: Your mind wanders, fixates on the thing you don’t want and then soon comes to believe in the reality of those unwanted thoughts.
That’s because the thoughts you keep thinking become your beliefs.
Thoughts that come into your mind can also be politely discarded from your mind; you can replace them with a thought that feels peaceful and happy if you make a real effort to do so. In other words, the habit of chronic worrying really can be broken by training yourself to challenge these thoughts with more desirable possibilities. You may need to breathe deeply to calm your body at the same time. (I’ll discuss this more in my article next week.)
You can see that if you allow your mind to dwell on just any negative thought that happens to enter without having self-control over which thoughts you allow to remain and be entertained, you can allow anxiety to develop. Even if such negative occurrences in the future are unlikely (especially when you remember a similar previous bad experience), these thoughts rapidly become beliefs. Anxiety is simply the physical manifestation of errant beliefs — beliefs in those fearful thoughts that are not even real.
You cannot simply think away anxiety, because anxiety is a physical manifestation of fear. Simply telling yourself “I’m not worried” does not take away the bad physical feelings immediately any more than telling your finger to stop heals a fresh wound: Your body is simply programmed to respond to the injury in this way.
Once your body comes to accept and believe those repeated fearful thoughts and nerve pathways have become entrained (like a food addiction), it is then a reflex reaction that can no longer be controlled with one simple thought. Instead, anxiety reactions to stressful thoughts have to be “unlearned.” Reversing the fearful beliefs can thereby gradually reverse the anxiety. I’ll also discuss this more in my next article.
How Anxiety Thrives
Stress is a major contributor to anxiety. More particularly, your response to stress is important. We inevitably encounter stressful things in daily life. I don’t know anyone who is without some form of stress.
However, it’s what you do with stress that can make you ill. Although you believe stress derives from the things you don’t like such as your job, unpaid bills, an unhappy relationship or relatives who bug you, the truth is, stress in your body comes from your own beliefs about these things, not the things themselves.
According to research at Stanford University by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., internal stress originates from incorrect beliefs and misinterpretations about your circumstances and yourself. This stress is experienced as destructive energy signals of anxiety, anger, low self-worth, depression, sadness, irritation, resentment, bitterness and being overwhelmed.
There are hundreds of incorrect beliefs that are interpretations of your memories and your experiences. I believe that stress is a major contributor to more than 95 percent of all chronic illness. Therefore, every time you have a health problem you should be asking yourself: “What stress is causing this; how did my thinking (reaction to stress) play a role in creating this stress; and what is the correct perspective that will shift my stress response?”
In my next article I’ll review some great techniques to combat fearful thoughts and chronic worrying.
To feeling good for health,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
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