Categorically everyone’s experience will be unique to them – if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety over a long period of time then it may well have developed into an anxiety based disorder (more on those to come).
We know that anxiety is just as much about the physical states as the mental ones. As I alluded to in my last email – I never experienced conscious worrying thoughts or avoidant behaviours – not least until I had become so debilitated with the physical feelings and symptoms that I could no longer mask or hide my struggles.
I didn’t know that I was experiencing anxiety and that it had developed into a ‘disorder’ – sounds stupid now when I think back, however after almost 12 months of medical appointments to rule out various diseases and illnesses with no explanations. Finally after hitting rock bottom my GP suggested that some of my physical symptoms may be psychogenic.
She reminded me that over a short period of time leading up to that fateful day under the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral I had endured a number of stressful and traumatic personal life events on top of a demanding job. Despite demanding, I felt safe and secure at work. I knew my craft and I was doing what I did best – Policing ran through me – helping others, problem solving and being of service. Nothing phased me, or seemly so I thought..
I remember sitting in the GP’s consulting room, eyes glazed, pins and needles running up and down my arms and legs, mouth dry, feeling lightheaded – describing rather proudly how I compartmentalised those more stressful life experiences by putting them in boxes – admittedly some of the boxes were huge and the lids closed tight.
I had learnt to compartmentalise as a child, likely as a coping strategy – separating from my feelings and emotions – much like oil and vinegar. I thought I was just placing the more fraught life events into boxes, out off the way. Harmfully, I was also suppressing the emotions and feelings that went with them.
So back to what anxiety may feel like for you:
Psychological symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can cause a change in all our behaviours and the way we think and feel about things, resulting in symptoms such as:
- Sense of dread or fear
- Feeling constantly ‘on edge’
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of Confidence
- Caught in negative thinking loops
These symptoms may cause us to withdraw from social contact (seeing family and friends) to avoid the feelings of worry and fear.
We may also find going to work difficult and stressful, and may take time off sick. These actions can make us worry even more about ourselves and increase our lack of self-esteem and dim further our self-worth.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
There are many physical symptoms, including:
- Noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (Palpitations)
- Muscle aches and pains
- Trembling or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach aches
- Feeling sick
- Pins and needles
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Some of us may also fall into the category of experiencing high-functioning anxiety which can demonstrate the following traits:
- High achieving
- Highly organised
- Detail oriented
- Outgoing personality
An individual with high-functioning anxiety may appear calm on the outside but feel very anxious internally with intermittent physical symptoms, trying to mask their symptoms by taking control of situations.
As you can see from the above, anxiety can manifest and become far more than just thoughts in the mind.
Remember the simplified explanation of why anxiety manifests with physical symptoms:
‘The brain is an extremely powerful organ. In a way, the central command centre for the rest of the body and has an influence over all the different organ systems. When this central command system is hijacked by anxiety, the anxiety has free rein to cause havoc in the different organ systems, creating actual physical symptoms even though there’s nothing wrong with the organ(s) itself’.
Armed with the above, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you have been able to advocate well for yourself medically to rule out any other illnesses or diseases then it is helpful to take a much more holistic and trauma informed approach to understanding your ‘why’.. what is at the core of your experiences?
This is where the healing begins.
P.S It is imperative to never make an assumption that any medically unexplained illness must have a psychological / psychogenic cause. For this reason I often ask my clients permission to write to their GP / Consultant or to work as part of a multidisciplinary team.