I was leading a group the other night and we were discussing anxiety and the effects it has on our ability to function and heal. I mentioned the different types of anxiety we experience and how those present themselves in the body. I realized that most were unaware that many of the symptoms they have been having were due to their anxiety.
I know I have spoken about anxiety a fair amount in the past but it is my belief that until we know better we can’t do better. In an attempt to help everyone understand the role anxiety is playing in their lives and how it manifests itself, below are the three major levels of anxiety starting at the lowest and moving to the highest. Please know the actual titles aren’t important but more the symptoms.
a) Striated Muscle: This is the first level of anxiety and we primarily experience it in our limbs. We start to shake our feet, bite our nails, clench our fists or our jaws, and tense our bodies. We can start to sigh more often and find it difficult to sit still. This level of anxiety is the easiest to soothe – practicing some deep breathing and some relaxation techniques will help dissipate the anxiety.
b) Autonomic System: This is the second level of anxiety. When our anxiety has moved to this level we typically experience things such as dry mouth and throat, increased heart rate, sweating, cold hands and shivering. Additionally, we may experience varying levels of dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and lightheadedness.
These symptoms can be more challenging to deescalate from and are there to let you know that you are being triggered. While this can be difficult to deal with on your own, if you are unable to talk with someone who can help decrease your anxiety, take some time to step outside of what may be triggering you, do lots of deep breathing and go take time for self care. If you continue to subject yourself to what is causing the anxiety it will be difficult to work yourself down and make yourself feel better
c) Cognitive Disruption: This is the highest level of anxiety and affects your ability to function. If your anxiety reaches this level you will experience incoherent, delayed or accelerated thought processes, struggles with knowing the time/place and/or disturbances in perception (such as tunnel vision, ringing in the ears, difficulty seeing/hearing things as clearly as you normally do). This level of anxiety can be more difficult to soothe on your own and takes time and conscious effort to come out of.
Recovering from an eating disorder is going to cause you anxiety and facing this anxiety can be challenging at times. Whatever your level of anxiety, take yourself to a place that is safe (your bedroom, your garden, wherever you feel safe and okay), focus for awhile on doing the triangle breathing and on getting yourself calm. Once calm, I would consider taking some time to think about how your anxiety affects your life and your ability to recover. Create a plan for working through this anxiety and self care strategies that you will implement as soon as you find yourself getting overwhelmed or in anxiety levels 2or 3. The sooner you can bring yourself down from your anxiety, the faster you can get back to focusing on getting well.