Getting your head around anxiety

Hitchin's Paul Harris has spoken at events about his mental health, as well as posting on andbreathe

Hitchin's Paul Harris has spoken at events about his mental health, as well as posting on Picture: Courtesy of Paul Harris - Credit: Archant

Hitchin’s Paul Harris opens up about his severe anxiety as we mark World Mental Health Day.

The problem with anxiety is understanding how it works.

The general consensus is that you have to have gone through it to really understand it – but why is this?

I have struggled with severe anxiety for three years, and during that time I have had to do a lot of work just to understand what was happening to me, and why my life had taken such a drastic turn.

The NHS gave me some basic information, but mostly I have had to read numerous self-help books, and find therapists who could do more for me than just prescribe medication.

So, what causes anxiety? Quite simply it is you brain telling you that a situation or an object may be dangerous it then generates physical reactions in order to protect you. The main reactions are to attack (fight), run away (flight) or stand still (freeze).

These reactions were programmed into our brains in prehistoric times, and were brilliant when our ancestors were confronted with a sabre toothed tiger.

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The reason so many people struggle with anxiety and panic nowadays is because the fight, flight and freeze responses are less useful. Could you imagine running away from the office every time you felt threatened by your boss, or you actually attacked them?

Suppressing these reactions makes anxiety worse because you are fighting against what your brain is telling you is dangerous, and that’s when anxiety turns to panic.

To fully understand anxiety, we have to turn to neuroscience (science of the nervous system and the brain) so we can learn the basics of how the brain reacts, the processes involved and why anxiety and panic do not always make sense.

Neuroscience shows us that severe anxiety can be deeply imbedded in the brain’s circuitry, and this comes from past experiences, some of which we remember and some that we are completely unaware of. The exciting thing is that science is now showing us that you can rewire your brain, and that you can build new circuits in the brain to override those that cause such distress.

There is so much more to learn about anxiety and the brain that is not mainstream knowledge – that is why I started my blog so I could share my experiences and what I am learning.