Stress is a fact of everyday life. When people reach out for help, they are often dealing with circumstances, situations, and stressors in their lives that leave them feeling emotionally and physically overwhelmed.
What is Stress and Anxiety?
Definition of stress and anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling that we commonly experience when faced with stressful life events. Anxiety can be one of the most distressing emotions that people feel. It is sometimes called “fear or nervousness”.
Common Reactions to Stress and Anxiety
List of common reactions to stress and anxiety include:
• Sweaty palms
• Muscle tension
• Racing heart
• Flushed cheeks
• Light headedness
• Avoiding situations where experiencing anxiety might occur
• Leaving situations when feelings of anxiety begins to occur
• Trying to do things perfectly or trying to control events to prevent danger
• Overestimation of danger
• Underestimation of your ability to cope
• Underestimation of help available
• Worries and catastrophic thoughts
Stressors can contribute to our anxiety
Examples of stressors: causes of stress and anxiety
Examples of stressors that contribute to feelings of anxiety might include trauma (being abused, being in an accident, war); illness or death, things we are taught (“snakes will bite you”); things we observe (an article in the newspaper about a plane crash); and experiences that seem too much to handle (giving a speech, job promotion or termination, having a baby).
The thoughts that accompany anxiety involve the perception that we are in danger or that we are threatened or vulnerable in some way. A threat of danger can be physical, mental, or social. A physical threat occurs when you believe that you will be physically hurt (e.g., a snake bite, a heart attack, being hit). A social threat occurs when you believe you will be rejected, humiliated, embarrassed, or put down. A mental threat occurs when something makes you worry that you are going crazy or losing your mind.
The perception of the threats varies from person to person
Some people, because of their life experiences, may feel threatened very easily and will often feel anxious. Other people may feel a greater sense of safety or security. Certain life experiences such as growing up in a chaotic home with volatile surroundings may lead a person to conclude that the world and other people are dangerous. The perception of danger
and sense of vulnerability may have helped a person survive as a child. Being able to recognize danger and its early warning signs are critical to one’s emotional and physical survival. Some may have developed a very fine ability to spot and respond to dangerous situations.
As an adult, it may become important to evaluate whether or not its possible that one is over-responding to danger and threat. Perhaps the people in their adult life are not as threatening as the people in their childhood. One might consider whether or not their resources and abilities to cope as an adult open new and creative ways of responding to threat and anxiety.
Anxious Thoughts: Examples
Anxious thoughts are future oriented and often predict catastrophe. Anxious thoughts often begin with, “What if…” and end with a disastrous outcome. Anxious thoughts frequently include images of danger as well. For example, a man with a fear of public speaking may, before a talk, think, “What if I stumble over my words? What if I forget my notes? What if people think I’m a fool and don’t know what I am talking about?” He may have an image of himself standing frozen in front of the crowd. These thoughts are all about the future and predict a dire outcome.
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