We all have anxiety. And it's a good thing we do, considering it is a natural human emotion that has evolved with us to play a key part in our survival mechanisms, pumping us with adrenaline that helps us fight our way through threatening situations and defend against harm. But, as we all know, too much of a good thing is always bad, and that's especially true when it comes to anxiety.
An anxious response that occurs without an appropriate threat level or stressful situation, or elevated chronic anxiety could be due to an anxiety disorder - one of the most common mental health conditions in the UK. In fact, accord to mental health charity Mind, 6% of the UK population suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, which is when anxiety begins to have a negative impact on your life, is lasting a long time, is hard to control or is resulting in panic attacks.
While you may be aware of the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack (sweating, fast heart rate, hyperventilating and light headedness among others), do you know what's going on inside your brain? No, nor did we - so we called upon Daniel Mansson, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Flow, the first and only medically approved treatment for depression of its kind in Europe.
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ANXIETY STEMS FROM DEEP WITHIN THE BRAIN
"While there are many different types of anxiety disorders, including Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, there are things that unite how they are expressed," explains Daniel. "Symptoms of anxiety and other mood disorders are partially a result of a disruption in the balance of activity in the emotional centres of the brain."
According to Daniel, a key area for regulation and experience of emotion is the limbic system, which consists of different parts that have different roles. "It is extra activity (called hyperactivity) in the limbic system, particularly a part called the amygdala, and the inability of higher cognitive areas to normalise the limbic response to stress that is the cause of anxiety disorders."
ANXIETY CAN EFFECT YOUR APPETITE...
"Emotions are important for our survival. When something is perceived as dangerous is happening, the brain puts the body in to an extreme mode, often called fight or flight," says Daniel. When the body is in this emergency mode, which is what happens during a panic attack, it puts everything else on hold - including our need to eat and sleep.
However, chronic stress or lasting anxiety can actually increase your appetite. The release of the stress hormone cortisol actually stimulates the appetite.
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...AND YOUR SLEEP
Sleep is also disturbed by anxiety, with adrenaline hindering the ability to fall asleep. Insufficient sleep can in turn cause distress and anxiety, so unfortunately it's a bit of a vicious cycle. "Disturbed sleep can also lead to problems like depression, which has its own consequences," says Daniel.
ANXIETY CAN REDUCE MEMORY AND CONCENTRATION
"If you think about anxiety as a stress reaction, you realise that this is a very reactive mode. Your senses have a heightened sensitivity which is good if you are running from an animal, but not very good if you are trying to solve more complex problems," explains Daniel.
He goes on to say that the fight or flight mode is great in an immediate threatening situation like an attacker or physical hazard, as it makes you more impulsive - saving precious seconds of reaction time. "It can also affect things like your short-term memory and ability to concentrate," warns Daniel.