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What Anxiety Really Looks Like

If there is one thing that all eating disorder and disordered eating sufferers have in common it is anxiety. Sometimes anxiety doesn’t manifest itself in a way that we recognize and we just assume that what we experience so frequently is just a part of who we are. When we can start recognizing our anxiety for what it is it makes it easier to decrease it and bring it down.

If you think of anxiety from an evolutionary perspective it served a very strong, very helpful purpose. As humans we needed to have a physiological response that would allow us to react appropriately to physical threat. If we were about to be attacked by a bear we want to be able to fight, flee or freeze based on what is most likely to ensure our survival. It doesn’t do us much good to be laissez-faire in the face of physical danger. The challenge is that in our day-to-day lives we don’t have these kinds of threats in our life and yet we experience anxiety often on a regular basis. The reason for anxiety now is that the threat has moved from physical to emotional. We are no longer at risk of being hurt by a bear but we are at risk of sharing an “unacceptable feeling” and losing our relationship to a loved one. I will explore this further in a later blog post but first I want to help you understand how anxiety manifests in your body.

There are 3 levels of anxiety:

Level 1: Is in the striated muscle: we start to notice tension in our muscles (hands, arms, neck, shoulders, abdominal wall, legs, etc. We often notice this because we start to notice the pain that the tension causes. Perhaps you get tension headaches or you notice how much your back starts to ache. We also notice it because a way in which we try to deal with the tension is by moving. We will fidget, bite our nails, tap our foot etc.

Level 2: Is in the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. We can get a dry throat and mouth, sweating palms and armpits, temperature changes (either really cold or really hot), we can get dizzy/lightheaded, constipation and diarrhea.

 Level 3: Is in our cognitive perceptual patterns. Our thoughts become incoherent, chaotic, delayed or accelerated. We can struggle with a blank mind and have a hard time orienting ourselves to time, date, place or persons. Tunnel vision or blurry vision as well as ringing in the ears may be present. Finally we can dissociate and/or hallucinate.

Hopefully by this post will help you understand how anxiety shows up in the body so you can recognize when it is present and work on decreasing it bit by bit.

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