What is anxiety?
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It is normal and expected in certain situations for example, when you watch a scary movie or start a first day of school. Anxiety is an emotion that is often described as an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future. Some people also refer to it as panic or fear.
But, although having concerns about things is normal, sometimes our anxiety and worries can take over the way we think and the way we act. We can start to avoid certain things and places because we worry about our health condition and feel frightened that something bad will happen to us.
You could ask ‘’why do we even feel anxiety if sometimes it isn’t good for us?’’ and this would be a very sensible question. We developed the ability to experience the anxiety to keep us safe. Let’s think about it for a second. Imagine human life on Earth millions of years ago. There was no internet to find information, no cars to travel, no houses to protect yourself from dangerous animals, no stores to buy clothes or food. It sounds a little bit difficult, doesn’t it? So, whether in the past or nowadays, the point of anxiety is to alert us to a possible danger and motivate as to take action. In the past it could have mean running away from the tiger lurking in the woods, and these days it can be looking left and right before we cross the street.
There is just one little problem with this. Sometimes our brains are not very great at seeing the difference between the real danger and the danger we think MIGHT happen. Think of a smoke alarm for a second. Its main function is to keep you safe, so when it goes off it means that there’s possibly a fire so you should immediately leave the building. There is one issue however, smoke alarms are very sensitive (as they should be!), but they have no way of recognising the difference between a smoke from an actual fire, steam after you’ve just had a hot shower or smoke coming from your kitchen, because you’ve just burnt your toast. And anxiety is very much like our body’s alarm system which sometimes goes off even if there is no actual danger.
Find out what anxiety can look like
There are four groups of symptoms that can help you recognise anxiety:
Emotional – the things we feel:
Panic, dread, fear, nervousness, worry, tension, restlessness, frustration, anger, guilt, loneliness, irritability, agitation, distress, hopelessness, suspiciousness, defensiveness, feeling trapped, feeling out of control, feeling overwhelmed.
2. Physical – the things we feel in our bodies:
Chest pain, chest tightness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, rapid breathing or feeling like you can’t catch a breath, sensation of choking, feeling a lump in a throat, sweating, headache, tummy ache, butterflies in the belly, dry mouth, feeling hot, feeling cold, tingling of lips, dizziness, bowel problems, skin rashes, shaking.
3. Cognitive – the things we think
‘’I can’t’’ thoughts; ‘’I can’t cope with it’’, ‘’What if’’ thoughts: what if something bad happens, what if I fail, what if I make a mistake, what if others will laugh at me, what if I need to go to the hospital; Self-blaming thoughts and negative thoughts about yourself: I am so stupid, I can’t never get things right.
4. Behavioural – the things we do (or don’t do)
Avoiding things we use to enjoy, putting off doing things, seeking reassurance, worrying, imagining things that might go wrong and planning for them, checking for signs of danger, sleeping more or sleeping less, becoming easily annoyed or angry, hiding away from people, spending more time on social media, crying more often, being unable to sit still.
Managing the anxiety
We know that when we feel anxious symptoms of respiratory disease can become stronger and this then causes even more anxiety because we worry about our health. So, you need to be able to turn the dial down on your anxiety ESPECIALLY if you are often anxious about your physical condition, because your body is probably overloaded and really stressed expecting the worst to happen.
It is not to say that you should ignore your anxiety or ignore your illness, because it would be an impossible task! Rather, you can learn some strategies to manage the anxiety and worries to give your brain and body a well-deserved rest. But before that, can you think of anxiety symptoms that might resemble the symptoms of your respiratory condition? If some of them overlap it could be helpful to speak to your Nurse or your Doctor and ask them to help you understand in which situations it is more likely that you experience physical symptoms of your condition and come up with a clear plan of action about what to do, then.
If you have asthma or bronchitis, you might be tempted to avoid physical activities because you worry that they will make your symptoms more severe. And in some situations, they probably can. Maybe you even experienced this already. But this is not to say that it will always be the case. And as you become more experienced getting to know how you feel and why, it will become easier for you to recognise what is happening and address the symptoms accordingly.