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An Introduction into Anxiety: what it is and how it is maintained.

Anxiety is something many people feel, and it can often seem overwhelming. However, knowing more about anxiety is the first step to understanding how to better manage it. This article will explain what anxiety is, common symptoms found in people experiencing it, and how it is maintained.


So, what exactly is anxiety? Anxiety is our body's natural response to stress, which signals when we are in danger. While feeling anxious in certain situations, like meeting someone new or going through a major life transition is normal, it becomes problematic when it impacts daily functioning, preventing you from doing the things that matter.


As anxiety is something many of us face worldwide, it’s important to understand how it works. It often follows a vicious cycle, perpetuating its own existence. It typically involves four components:


1.    Trigger: The brain detects a perceived stressor or threat in the environment. From there, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activates the anxiety response (also known as the Fight-Flight-Freeze response).


2.    Physical Symptoms: The body reacts with physiological responses including (but not limited to) muscle tension, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, and sweating.


3.    Cognitive Appraisal: Thoughts become focused on potential danger, catastrophising the situation and magnifying the perceived threat.


4.    Behavioural Response: Individuals may engage in avoidance behaviours or safety-seeking strategies to alleviate anxiety temporarily, which only maintains the cycle.


What we know about the cycle of anxiety is that avoidance is a common coping strategy, as mentioned in step four. This means, that when an individual is in an anxiety-provoking situation that leads to uncomfortable symptoms, they may avoid the situation to help control the symptoms. Some examples may include procrastinating on difficult tasks, using substances to numb feelings, or even avoiding people or places that evoke this response. However, avoidance strategies only provide short term relief to the symptoms of anxiety. Meaning, the next time an individual is confronted with a similar anxiety-provoking situation, the anxiety can worsen, leading to increased avoidance behaviours.


As time progresses, it then can become more difficult to face the things that led to the anxiety, which ultimately maintains the cycle. However, if you find yourself in this cycle, it’s important to understand that the symptoms of anxiety can be managed and reduced. In future articles, we will explore the different anxiety disorders, as well as useful coping strategies in reducing the symptoms of anxiety.

Wherever you are on your mental health journey, our team at Nurtured Thoughts Psychology are always here to help. Our team of clinicians have extensive experience supporting individuals with a wide range of mental health challenges, providing tailor-made treatment plans and strategies to meet their unique needs. At Nurtured Thoughts Psychology, you will be supported each step of the way. Please feel free to get in touch or book an appointment here. We look forward to welcoming and supporting you at the practice. 

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