We’ve all woken up at 2am, heart racing, sweating and a sense of dread with the overarching question “what if?” But when does this fleeting worry turn into fully-fledged anxiety? What do we do if we have these panic attacks on a regular basis or feel an ever present sense of dread? Leisa Aitken has returned for another Masterclass, this time giving insight on the problem of anxiety and how we can help others or spot the warning signs ourselves.
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Although stress and anxiety are used interchangeably, they are quite different in a psychological sense; stress is a general feeling of being overwhelmed and having too much on whereas anxiety is a more physical response that can last for longer periods of time. Those suffering from anxiety can have a free-floating anxiety that can cause shaking, sleeping problems, tensed muscles resulting in chest pains and headaches. In more extreme cases, Panic Disorder is categorized by extreme panic attacks when adrenaline is released, heart rate rises, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, muscles tense and shake and people can feel like their choking. These can last from ten to thirty minutes and those suffering from Panic Disorder can have these on a regular basis.
Alongside anxiety and panic disorder, phobias ranging from dogs and spiders to social anxiety can have a crippling effect on people’s lives. Often when phobias start by a small thought rising in one’s head catastrophizing the situation causing a panic response and making the individual avoid the phobia causing situation. Over time, this thought manifests into a belief that the avoidance of the phobia has saved them from disaster encouraging them to avoid it more. This is a natural response, however when the phobia is the imagined judgement from others, it can severely alter the natural progression of daily life.
Leisa says that we often develop unhealthy ways of coping with anxiety, eating, avoidance, binge drinking or becoming reclusive. Instead, we should work on simple techniques such as slowing our breathing, relaxing muscles and recognising negative and detrimental thoughts to help us cope with anxiety and panic with a psychologist or GP. Leisa encourages Christians take rest in the promises of the bible, that one day we will have a perfect body without anxiety or stress and that now we shouldn’t worry about our brokenness as it is a sign we are living in a broken world and to take gentle steps to becoming more in the image of God.
For further resources on anxiety, Beyond Blue and CRUfAD are websites that offer online treatment; Leisa recommended This Way Up. Christian psychologists are often helpful as they help you replace negative of anxious thoughts with God inspired thoughts and can help you understand your anxiety in relation to your faith. Leisa has also done Masterclasses with Open House on Mindfulness, Boundaries and Depression.