Anxiety is not just in your head, even though it might feel like it. It actually comes from the fight, flight or freeze response, which humans evolved to have in order to survive.
Modern life means we are not often at risk of being attacked by a bear or a wolf, but the response is still there, hardwired into our brains.
So, our body responds to other stimuli in the same way, from falling out with friends, to exam stress and more. So what does your body actually do when you have anxiety?
Breathing often becomes faster and more shallow when we’re anxious, as we are trying to get as much oxygen into our bodies as possible to prepare for what might come. This often has the opposite of the desired effect, and can make us dizzy, disorientated and is really tiring. Try these meditation techniques to help you control your breathing and get back to reality.
Increased heart rate
When your breathing starts getting faster, your heart rate will be going up as well. This is to try to get all that oxygen you are taking in to your brain and muscles so that you are powered up to fight or run. This can cause really uncomfortable palpitations, like there’s butterflies in your chest, or even chest pain.
If you get severe chest pain, you should go to the hospital or call an ambulance. It might be nothing, and can often be caused by panic attacks and raised stress levels, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Because your body thinks it’s under threat, it diverts energy away from things that aren’t strictly necessary for survival in a threatening situation. You might find you lose your appetite or get an upset stomach because your body isn’t using its energy to digest food like it usually does. Taking some time to relax using some of these techniques will help you calm down and you’ll soon find your appetite returns.
Headache or weird vision
Anxiety and stress can cause you to have headaches more regularly or they might get worse in severity. It can also affect your vision, giving you what is often referred to as “tunnel vision”. You might have blurred vision, or the outside edges of your field of vision become dark. We know this sounds scary, but doesn’t last forever, and often goes away as soon as you calm down.
Your body is getting ready to run away, fight your way out of a situation or stand stockstill in order to get out of danger. Kind of like when you are at the start of a race at school. But you don’t need to do these things, so all that energy is going to your muscles, and then has nowhere else to go.
This is why it’s a good idea to do some gentle exercise when you feel anxious, like going for a light jog or walk, as it will help you use some of that pent up energy and get you out of your own head for a while.