If you were to simplify what anxiety is, it can best be described as your fear response not working properly. Have you ever had a smoke alarm that sounded even when no smoke was around? That's what living with anxiety is like - your body feels scared, even though there isn't anything that's supposed to be scaring it.
So what can you do when you feel afraid all of the time - physically, mentally, or both? We'll explore that in this article.
Scariness = Anxiety?
Are you feeling physically scared? What about experiencing a lot of fearful thoughts for no reason? Find out how to control this feeling of scariness with my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Anxiety and Scariness
It's not entirely clear why those with anxiety have a fear response that's malfunctioning. In general, it's believed to be a coping problem that is either learned (through life situations) or genetic (in your DNA) or both. If you're looking for a complete anxiety profile and treatment ideas, make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Physical Scariness Symptoms
Even though anxiety does involve a lot of "Scary" thoughts, the basics of anxiety are physical. When you have anxiety, your body activates as though you're facing a predator, releasing adrenaline and causing a host of changes to your body that are all designed to keep you safe from harm.
Except there is no harm, and the anxiety doesn't stop. So over time, you're simply experiencing more and more physical anxiety symptoms without any relief. This is why anxiety is described as a "broken" fear response.
Mental Anxiety Symptoms
One of the stranger mysteries however is why anxiety causes mental symptoms. On their own, adrenaline doesn't actually cause many anxious thoughts (with a few exceptions for panic attacks, although the "thoughts" are mostly health related because of the physical symptoms), but it does lead to a general feeling of being nervous.
There are some that believe that your mind is responding to your body. Since your body is nervous, your mind feels nervous. There is some evidence that the mind does adapt to the way the body feels. That's why people believe that when you exercise and tire your body, your thoughts end up more relaxed as well.
But another likely reason is that you've lost your ability to cope with stresses, and your mind then translates those stresses and thoughts into anxiety and allows them to spiral out of control. Your mind is often your worst enemy, and so when you're feeling scared from anxiety, the more your thoughts are free to run wild the more nervous thoughts you can expect.
This is a bit of an oversimplification and there is a lot more involved. For example, a phenomenon known as "thought suppression" is one of the reasons that thoughts recur, and there are hormonal/neurotransmitter issues that can actually alter thoughts and interpretations, but these are the basics of feeling scared from anxiety.
How to Stop the Scariness
Of course, knowing the cause of this feeling isn't necessarily helpful. Chances are you're hoping to figure out how to cure that scared feeling so that you can live more anxiety free.
We spoke about exercise earlier, and exercise is step one. There are countless scientific studies that link regular exercise to calming anxiety, because there are several relaxation components that reduce feeling scared.
It should also be noted that even though anxiety has a strong physical component as mentioned above, there is a considerable amount of evidence that you can "learn" coping tools that teach your brain not to respond that strongly to anxiety/fear. The mind and body are connected, and so you can control your physical anxiety if you can mentally control the fear.
Beyond that, consider the following:
- Mental Distractions We mentioned earlier that your mind is your enemy when you have anxiety. If you can make it harder for your mind to focus on things that could cause fear, you'll be less able to trigger the symptoms that cause the feelings of anxiety. So distract yourself all day with fun activities, phone calls, positive music, funny television, and other things that don't cause anxiety but still distract your mind.
- Walk We mentioned that exercise is valuable for preventing and curing that feeling of being scared, but we should also mention walking as a potential reduction method as well. Walking around helps your blood get flowing and provides you with visual and mental stimulation. Also, walking can reduce some of the adrenaline in your bloodstream, which is important for keeping anxiety away.
- Write Out Thoughts When anxiety thoughts are bothering you, write them out. Your mind has a tendency to focus on thoughts when you have them because it's trying to get you to pay attention to them. But the mind also relaxes when it knows that you have recorded those thoughts in a place you can refer to at any time.
These basic strategies, combined with a healthier and more relaxing lifestyle, will ensure that you're at least experiencing less scariness in your day to day life.
Of course, in the end you're still going to need to adapt your life to anti-anxiety strategies. I strongly encourage you to take my free 7 minute anxiety test now. It'll give you an opportunity to fill out your symptoms and receive information on recommended options.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.