Analysis: we spend too much time worrying about what we can't control and this feeling of not having control feeds into our anxiety

The thing about anxiety and panic is that it is misunderstood. A lot of people don't know what anxiety is. Do you know why we panic? I think if you did, you would not be as scared of it.

We worry and then panic because our brain is telling our body that there is an immediate threat or danger - when, in fact, there is usually no physical threat present. However, our body does not know this and reacts in the appropriate way because our brain tells our body that there is a danger. It would be the same if you were out in the wilderness and a bear was coming for you. Your brain would tell your body once again that there is a threat, but this time there would be!

To put it simply, the correct type of reaction is happening, but in the wrong situation. This is called the fight/flight response. Your body is getting ready to either fight the bear or run away. It is a healthy and natural response. But when you have anxiety you don't need to this to happen because there is no bear.

From RTÉ One's Six One News, a report on how doctors have been warned  to reduce overprescribing of anxiety and sleeping medicines

When your brain is hijacked with racing thoughts, have you ever felt sick or that your stomach "dropped?" This is because you do not need your digestive system to fight a bear, so it shuts off. Adrenaline reduces blood flow and relaxes muscles in your stomach causing nausea, butterflies or churning. This is because the blood flows instead to other muscles, which would be needed more in a dangerous situation.

Your heart beats faster because your blood pressure increases as the heart pumps more blood to muscles, allowing you to run away or attack. You cannot faint while taking a panic attack. When you faint, your blood pressure drops, but when you panic, your blood pressure goes higher so it is physically impossible. Your hands may tingle, as blood is diverted to larger muscles like the arms and legs. Your body sweats to allow the warm body to cool down again. Your eyes actually widen to allow more light in and improve your vision, and you breathe faster to let in more oxygen, causing you to feel dizzy.

All these symptoms are real and are all due to anxiety, and they happen for a reason, to help you fight or run away from the threat. The next time you panic, remember there is no bear and there is no threat. You are safe. It is only your thoughts racing, and they cannot harm you. Tell your body that what is happening is helpful, and useful. You just don’t need this to happen right now so it can stop. If there was a physical threat present, you would want your body to react in this way. Take comfort from the fact that your body is working in a healthy way, preparing you for danger, just at the wrong time. There is nothing to fear with anxiety, you are not going to die.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Dr Harry Barry on anxiety 

When you understand what anxiety is, you can control it. You know why it is happening and you don’t need it to happen. You are in control. Your body is only running on adrenaline.

When you feel anxious and you don’t want to go into a situation that heightens this anxiety, the worst thing you can do is avoid it. The key for anxiety is to face it in a gradual and controlled way. Starting small, staying for as long as you can and repeating it as often as you can. Do this and just observe how in fact your anxiety decreases the longer that you stay. Isn’t it better to try instead of sitting home alone feeling guilty and more anxious? The more positive experiences you have, the easier it gets. If I was terrified of a scary movie, and watched it every day for a week, would I be as scared at the end of the week?

The more times we expose ourselves to anxiety, the anxiety decreases. It is a fact that the longer we stay in an anxiety driven situation, the anxiety does go down. It has to go down as our body cannot withstand that level of adrenaline for a long period of time. So no matter how bad you feel, it will stop. Once you have the power over anxiety, it cannot control you – and you can learn how to do that. Knowledge is power!

We spend a lot of time worrying about what we can’t control and this is the hardest thing to accept. The feeling of not having control feeds into a lot of people’s anxiety. The fact is we have no control over some things in life. It is more important to focus on what we can control, in the present, and if there is something we can do about it.

The simple fact is that worrying does not change the outcome. It just makes us upset. It doesn’t make anything better. It steals our joy. However, there is a way to take the power from it, as we can control our thoughts. It is scary to accept that we have no control, but when you do, your life changes for the better.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ