Many people feel anxiety in their lives; when they are called upon to speak at a meeting, when they are about to meet new people; or when they are about to be tested or exposed to potential judgement. A degree of anxiety in situations such as these is a part of the normal range of emotions which make up our internal lives.
Some people suffer from a level of anxiety all the time, which can be described as ‘background anxiety’. This is a sensation of a low-level anxiety that is always present, even if nothing appears to be going wrong, and which may have the tendency to build up slowly over time.
What does background anxiety feel like?
As with any form of worry, background anxiety can take on physical symptoms. Background anxiety can feel like a simmering sensation, a sense of being ‘on edge’, an anticipatory feeling. In your body you may feel your heartbeat flutter occasionally, or feel a funny sensation in your stomach, or find that parts of your body are shaking a little or feel tense.
Background anxiety can be characterised as markedly different from panic attacks. Where panic attacks are immediately apparent to the sufferer, background anxiety is more subtle, and can develop slowly over time. Where panic attacks are a very high level of anxiety, with dramatic physical effects, background anxiety presents as a steady feeling of unease, worry or fear.
It can be unsettling to feel a level of anxiety and to perhaps not have a clear-cut ‘reason’ for the feeling. The true causes of background anxiety can be linked to other aspects of your life. Many people with background anxiety find that they are able to function at school, home and work, even though they are feeling uncomfortable. The feelings of background anxiety may also have impacts on being able to fall asleep.
What can help if I am experiencing background anxiety?
Talking therapy can help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with background anxiety, as the condition may be linked to unarticulated worries, memories or feelings. Discussing emotions can create ‘room’ for worries and fears to be expressed, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help to guide your thoughts towards more constructive places. Other techniques such as regular, habitual mindfulness, anxiety checklists can also be helpful.
Elsa Minns, Fernwood Clinic Team
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