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Feeling a bit 'wobbly'

Everyone feels a bit ‘wobbly’ or anxious at one time or another. It’s part of everyday life, it may be an unpleasant part, but it happens to everyone. It affects people in different ways and at different times of their lives. For most people feeling anxious can be linked to ‘stress’, there is often an identifiable external factor which is causing the anxious feelings, like a job interview, starting at a new school or going for your driving test. When the feelings continue long after the event has passed, this is when anxiety can start to impact everyday life.

Its important to realise that anxiety plays a vital role in keeping us safe. The physical reactions of anxiety go back to our early development, to cave men days when we had to go and hunt and gather our food; way before Tesco’s, or Waitrose existed! We developed an internal alarm system which was designed to protect us from danger; when we came face to face with a sabre tooth tiger, our alarm signal would kick in. As part of the alarm system we would get a surge of adrenalin; the chemical which gets us ready to either run away (flight), stand our ground and punch the tiger on the nose (fight) or stand very still and hope the tiger doesn’t notice us (freeze). These reactions are known as the ‘flight, fight, freeze’ response. The adrenalin has real physical effects on your body to be ready to make that split-second decision and choose the right response. Today we don’t come across sabre tooth tigers anymore, but that danger response is still there, the internal alarm system can be activated at the wrong time during normal, everyday situations when stress has built up without us realising! This causes the physical response associated with a big surge of adrenalin in our bodies; increased heart rate, jelly legs, quick shallow breathing, feeling sick, dry mouth, wanting to run away, wanting to use the toilet more often…and so the list goes on.

Try to recognise what happens to you when you start to feel anxious, what effect does your internal alarm have on you; if you can identify your own early warning signs then you stand a better of chance of putting some strategies in place that help you to feel better and less anxious. If you wake up on the morning of an important exam and feel sick to your stomach and keep needing to go to the loo; have you got food poisoning, or could it be anxiety? If you know how anxiety affects you, you can make a more informed decision about what action to take; ‘I need today off as I’ve got a tummy bug and will have to miss the exam’ - it never effects my tummy when I feel anxious or ‘I need to do some of things that I know help me when I feel anxious, they will help me get through the exam' - I know my tummy gets upset when I'm anxious!

Anxiety can also alter the way that we think. It can make us imagine that things are much worse than really are; ‘I’m useless and I know I will fail the exam so there’s no point even going!’ Sometimes we need to stop for second and check out just how ‘real’ our ‘anxiety thoughts’ are; we need to check the evidence. How likely is it that you will fail? Have you failed all your exams in the past? How much work have you done? Consider: ‘Is thinking like this helping me to do my best?’ If your best friend was sitting in front of you saying that they were going to fail the exam what would you say to them? Would you say – ‘Yes, you will fail, you’re a bit thick and I never thought you would pass’ or would you say – ‘You’ve done lots of work, you know your stuff, you’ll smash it!’ Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Checking the evidence can you make you realise that the thought you are having is not actually a fact and this in turn can help to reduce your anxiety. We need to become kinder to ourselves; to make our ‘internal voice’ positive, supportive and compassionate, just the way that we would talk to our best friends – we need to use the same voice when we talk to ourselves.

But sometimes you just have to accept that you are going to be anxious; sit with it, name your anxiety, think about where in your body you can feel it, what colour is it? Always remember it WILL pass, the feelings WILL dissipate and eventually disappear, and you WILL feel better and come through it in one piece. At the time, it may feel overwhelming, uncomfortable and never ending, but be assured that it always ends, no matter how difficult it feels, you can get through it and come out of the other side.

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