Anxiety in everyday life

Article written by: Dr Anize Van Zyl


We live in a fast-paced society and a place where people expect an immediate response to everything; the expectation is that you should be available on your phone 24/7, immediately reply to emails, etc. If we do not comply with these requests, we are met with impatience. These expectations from others and of ourselves, place a lot of pressure on us which can create anxiety. If we are inclined to comply with others’ expectations, and do this over a long period of time, we will eventually burn out. It is not sustainable.

On a neurological level, when we are stressed or anxious, our brains get flooded which activates the reptilian brain. This is the oldest part of the brain and is responsible for things we don’t usually think about: heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. It is also concerned with survival and is activated when we are in danger – real or perceived. When this happens, we may take one of four approaches, fight, flight, freeze or fawn:

FIGHT Moving towards the danger or threat, e.g., anger, frustration, rage, perfectionism, aggression, control. FLIGHT Moving away from the danger or threat, e.g., anxiety, panic, overthinking, escaping, distracting, avoiding. FREEZE Tonic immobility, deer in headlights, wanting to move towards or away from the danger or threat but can't, e.g., stuckness, procrastination, doom scrolling, difficulty making decisions, urgency/exhaustion cycle. FAWN Averting the threat or danger by appeasing and pleasing, e.g., people-pleasing, self-abandoning, co-dependency, playing small, lack of identity, avoiding conflict.

Sometimes we don’t recognise anxiety until it becomes too overwhelming, we may not pay attention to our body and its signals. Common signals for anxiety can include:

  • Feeling nervous/helpless
  • A sense of impending panic, danger, or doom
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Obsessively thinking about the panic trigger

It is difficult to face a difficult situation when our resources are empty. The building blocks to filling our resources start with the basics, which are:

  1. Getting enough sleep – at least 6 hours per night.
  2. Eating healthy and regular meals.
  3. Exercising – even just going for a walk around the block.
  4. Socialise – do things you enjoy with friends or family.

Some useful techniques to help you cope with anxiety:

  1. Try to identify where the anxiety is coming from (possible triggers).
  2. Break big objectives/tasks into smaller objectives/tasks to make it more manageable.
  3. Breathing and/or relaxation exercises.
  4. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
  5. Keep a journal – writing helps to get things out of your mind and onto paper.

If you find it difficult to manage the anxiety, go see your mental health provider – you don’t have to manage it alone!



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