Anxiety Phobia and PTSD

horses running in fear
We inherited our fight-or-flight instinct from animal ancestors.

We all feel anxious sometimes. In a genuinely risky
situation anxiety sharpens our reactions and helps us to keep safe. But it
becomes a problem when we feel anxious about everything, or when we don’t know
what to do to feel more secure. Our bodies are built to react to extreme
situations like being attacked. This triggers the fight, flight, or freeze
reaction. We run away, get violent, or freeze like a rabbit caught in a car’s
headlights. Animals fight if they feel there is a good chance of winning,
otherwise they run away. If neither fighting nor escape is possible they will
freeze, because predators may not see an animal that stays perfectly still.

The problem is that in modern life we face
situations where we feel stressed or threatened, but fighting, running away, or
freezing are not helpful to us. We need to use our brains to handle these
situations. But when the fight/flight/freeze reaction has been activated, our
brains have gone offline. We can only think very simple thoughts  like “I have to get away!” In some cases we
can’t think at all!

A panic attack is the most extreme form of anxiety
symptoms. The person not only freezes but also hyperventilates, over-breathing
until they feel dizzy, sweaty, cold and clammy, heart palpitating, and even
passing out. A panic attack can feel like you’re going to die or lose control
completely. The good news is that these feelings are illusions. You will not
die from a panic disorder, and you are not having a “nervous breakdown”. Even
severe anxiety can be relieved quite rapidly using effective self help
techniques.

Anxiety often results from stress which the person
cannot handle. A sense of helplessness results from feeling boxed in with no
way of escape. Not all stress is bad. If people have good coping skills and
confidence, stress can motivate them to great achievements. Signs of stress
aren’t always obvious. High blood pressure for instance doesn’t show on the
outside, and isn’t even felt till it gets very extreme.

 A phobia is
extreme fear or anxiety in response to something that is not dangerous, or that
is highly unlikely to happen. The names of the most common phobias are well
known. For instance arachnophobia = fear of spiders, emetophobia = fear of
vomiting, agoraphobia = fear of open spaces, and claustrophobia = fear of
confined spaces, health related anxiety (hypochondria). However people could
develop a phobia of just about anything. Some people are afraid of buttons! People
who have phobias can often be courageous in other situations, even situations
that are actually dangerous.

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is where
someone feels that something bad will happen if they do, or do not do, a
certain thing (usually counting, checking, or washing). Sometimes they have a
clear idea of what they think would happen, other times it’s just a vague
feeling. From a distance they can see this makes no sense, but when they try to
stop themselves from doing the compulsive behaviour they get extremely anxious
and the threat of bad consequences can feel absolutely real.