What’s really going on when we feel anxious or stressed?

26th February 2020

I do truly believe that where I’m most useful with my clients is as the compassionate observer and witness to what is keeping them stuck. When clients feel heard, accepted and understood they can begin to find their own solutions and ways to navigate whatever it is that’s troubling.

That doesn’t mean however, that I say nothing and don’t challenge. Far from it. Challenging, reflecting, paraphrasing and summarising are all ‘bread and butter’ skills for coaches and therapists.

On top of that, there are also times where I sense that some input or an education piece could help someone see what’s happening in a different light. 

One such topic is the stress response. You know that response that you learned about in biology; the good old fight or flight response!? That hard wired response to danger that has developed over millennia, without which we probably wouldn’t be here!

For clients who experience anxiety and panic attacks, understanding what’s happening to them physiologically in that moment can really help them in feel that they’re not somehow flawed or that there’s something wrong with them.

Understanding that stress and anxiety matter of chemistry and many of the symptoms that we experience when we feel stressed, anxious or panicked are as a direct result of the cocktail of hormones that flood the brain (mainly adrenalin & cortisol). 

There’s a part of the brain that really is in survival mode, and it really does think this is a matter of life or death!

Modern life probably doesn’t mean that we really are facing down a sabre tooth tiger or a hairy mammoth that fancies us for its next snack. But that’s exactly how it can feel. If we live with anxiety or panic attacks the same feelings can rear up in response to a whole myriad of situations.

If you think of the stress response as a sort of alarm system, it’s like it’s hypersensitive. A bit like having your house alarm settings too high, so that it goes off even if someone walks past the end of your street!! How dare they!!

One of the practical things that I work on with clients is, once we understand this system, is to find ways to ‘dial down’ the sensitivity of the alarm. But the starting point is to know when it’s going off!!

If you’d like to know more about this or would like a copy of my “Managing Anxiety Information Sheet” please feel free to email me on gill@gillparkin.com