In my blog this week I am going to explain why the sufferer of anxiety often feels tired and answer the question, Is Anxiety Exhausting?
When I begin work with a client one of the first questions I ask is about the symptoms they are experiencing. There is a pool of symptoms that are shared and many overlap, heart racing, sweats, shakes and so on, but very rarely do people tell me they feel tired. I always ask though, and they usually respond with a resounding ‘yes’! It is a very common, shared symptom of anxiety that is often overlooked.
To understand why we feel exhaustion we have to learn about our survival instincts, or how you may know it, our fight, flight or freeze response. The human mind has an emergency alarm it can trigger when it believes it is in danger. The important aspect of that last sentence is the word ‘believes’ it is in danger. Being in danger and believing you are in danger can be complete opposite ends of the spectrum.
For instance being stuck in a cable car, you are not actually in danger, you are in a situation that isn’t comfortable but not in danger. If you suffered from claustrophobia you will ‘believe’ you are in danger when in fact you are just in an uncomfortable situation.
Are you really in danger?
When the mind believes you are in danger, regardless if you are or not, it will set off the built in survival instinct mechanism and you will experience whichever symptoms of anxiety that affect you. The reason these symptoms are experienced is because your mind is alerting you to something being wrong in your immediate environment. It works the same way if your body becomes damaged – you feel pain in the damaged area. It is about bringing your attention to something wrong so you can resolve it. The feelings experienced when we feel fear are simply alerts that you will find very hard to ignore so you are forced to take action. The claustrophobic stuck in a tight space will feel anxious and do his best to remove himself from that situation. At a basic level this is a great alarm system but unfortunately it goes off when it really shouldn’t. This is due to out of date beliefs and rules that we generally have picked up through childhood. Our subconscious mind has learnt and stored ineffective response patterns to things that shouldn’t trigger it but does.
Herein lies something all those that suffer anxiety experience. They want to do something but feel pulled back to not do it. This is where there is conflict between the conscious and subconscious parts of our brain. Our conscious wants to do something but our subconscious has a rule that states that it is dangerous so sets off the fight, flight or freeze response.
Our ancestral background!
If we go back a few million years to cavemen times we will see that we hadn’t developed the Neomammalian complex of our brain – the part of the brain that has the ability for conscious awareness. We functioned simply on something being dangerous or not. We didn’t think about it because at this point in our evolution we couldn’t! For our survival we just followed the responses, if we felt sensations we would be more cautious. It was a flawless protocol and kept us alive.
Problems started when we developed the Neomammalian complex of the brain as we could now argue against those feelings. But here was a flaw in our development. The subconscious part of the brain also known as the reptilian complex or hind brain doesn’t listen to our conscious part. Once a rule is set in the hind brain it is not possible to change. It is seen as a life or death response and one that has to be obeyed. So even if consciously you know something is safe, if the hind brain disagrees it will activate the fight, flight or freeze response and you will be alerted via all the unwanted and unwarranted sensations in your body. These sensations are very hard to ignore so you generally do what you can to remove yourself from the situation you find yourself in.
Fight, Flight or Freeze!
This built in alarm is only supposed to go off in an emergency. To create symptoms of anxiety takes a lot of energy in the body and its ideal use should be very limited. If we look at each below;
Fight – When the alarm is activated non-required systems like digestion are shut down and the blood is moved to the larger muscles to add better movement and strength to fight when required.
Flight – As above, but rather than using our body to fight it means we can move away as quick as possible.
Freeze – Our body has a fantastic ability to hold perfectly still if it feels a danger may be looking for us. This ability to hide and stay quiet and silent is used until any potential threat have left the area.
Each of the above are supposed to be for one of random situations, expelling the amount of energy it takes to fire them up is ok if it’s done occasionally, once a week, month etc. The problem for the anxiety sufferer is that these responses are being triggered daily or, even hourly. Continuously using up this back up energy to fire up those sensations is extremely tiring.
This function that was in our ancestry was only used for life or death situations but as we evolved we began to use it more and more and it became used for situations that we believed were life or death but, in actuality, were not.
Is Anxiety Exhausting? Yes
This is why anxiety is so exhausting. We are constantly burning energy to fire up a response that is not required. Obviously this isn’t being done intentionally (consciously) but means the person has triggers that are firing that don’t need to be.
BWRT is a fantastic tool to help with those triggers. BWRT allows the hind brain to fire up the trigger but instead of it firing off the fight or flight response we can replace that with a preferred response of feeling calm. No triggers, no stress, more energy ☺
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