You know that feeling: sweaty palms, heart racing, your mind just can’t settle down and the more you try to self-talk the less it helps. Anxiety – it’s a daily struggle for more South Africans than you may think. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), as many as one in six South Africans suffers from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems. This number is on the rise, especially when considering how many people are now turning to The ADD Lab for help.
When we think we are in danger or are in fact in actual danger we enter a state of anxiety and experience anxiety symptoms on three different levels – psychological, physiological and behavioural.
WHAT ARE THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY?
- Feeling overwhelmed
WHAT ARE THE BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY?
- Becoming attached to a safety object or person
- Limiting daily activities to avoid anxiety
WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY?
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling on edge
- Muscle tension
- Butterflies in the stomach
- An exaggerated startle response
- Sweaty hands or feet
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
Anxiety triggers an automatic mechanism in our brain called The Fight or Flight Response. The Fight or Flight Response lives in our Sympathetic Nervous System. If you hear a loud noise, for example, the Sympathetic Nervous System is triggered and prepares the body for action. It immediately releases adrenalin and noradrenalin and increases the heart rate and blood flow so as to speed up the delivery of oxygen to larger muscles, such as the thighs and biceps, in order to run away from a threat if necessary. In other areas of the body, like the hands, feet, skin and brain, blood vessels are constricted, which is why we go pale, feel cold or experience dizziness.
During Fight or Flight the Sympathetic Nervous System changes the depth and rate at which we breathe so that enough oxygen is delivered to the muscles, which is why we feel breathless or our chests become tight. We also start sweating in order to cool down and not overheat during Fight or Flight.
Here’s the kicker: all these changes occur before we are even consciously aware of the threat in our environment. It is only after the Fight or Flight system is activated that the conscious mind kicks in. If our senses process the environment and determine that the fear response is appropriate, our body will remain alert. If no threat is identified, our Parasympathetic Nervous System activates and our body returns back to its normal state. Restoring the body to its relaxed state does, however, take some time and that is why people can continue to feel charged up or apprehensive even when the threat has already passed for some time. Occasionally we also feel tired and drained afterwards.
Fight or Flight is a natural, automatic, survival response. The problem occurs when this response is activated too often or we stay in this state for too long. We may even experience muscle aches, restlessness, difficulty sustaining concentration, sleep problems, persistent fatigue, as well as difficulties in regulating emotions.
Why does this happen?
An increased tendency to respond anxiously could be due to a biological or genetic predisposition to anxiety. It could also be because of a generalised psychological predisposition resulting from early life experiences or a specific psychological vulnerability that resulted from specific life events or circumstances.
At The ADD Lab, a specialised assessment called a Quantitative Electroencephalogram (QEEG) allows us to measure the functioning of the autonomic nervous system where the Fight or Flight Response lives. We do this by measuring heart rate, heart rate vulnerability (any variations in heart beats), breathing rate and sweat production while the participant performs a range of different tasks.
If we find high levels of Autonomic Nervous System activity we know that anxiety needs to be treated.
Treatments for anxiety – the TOMATIS listening programme
The TOMATIS listening programme can assist in coping with anxiety by stimulating the brain through sensory messages that help to energise the brain and relax the individual. A recent study conducted at the University of Potchefstroom showed a significant reduction in anxiety in subjects who had completed the TOMATIS programme. In addition, a second study demonstrated that subjects continued to show a decline in anxiety levels 14 months after completing the programme.
Treatments for anxiety – the Neurofeedback
During Neurofeedback we monitor breathing rate and also brainwave activity. By playing a simple game on the computer, we reward the brain for producing calming brainwaves and inhibiting anxious brainwaves. By making a habit of producing these good brainwaves, our clients are able to control anxiety levels more effectively.
We’ve all suffered from some degree of anxiety in our lives. Some experience fleeting flashes of mild uneasiness and others struggle with an almost constant feeling of extreme fear or panic. Speak to us about your symptoms and treatment options by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (011) 888 9334.