Anxiety is a pernicious little devil; it can hold us back, freeze our creativity and diminish our ability to fight our way out of trouble. Anxiety leads to a 'vicious cycle' in which anxiety feeds poor performance which increases anxiety and . . . you get the picture.
We all understand that severe problems make us anxious -- career difficulties, financial worries, medical problems. What many people do not appreciate is the low-grade or 'background' anxiety which affects every person, every day.
Desmond Morris put it well when he said that we have constructed a "human zoo". People in modern society exhibit behaviours which simply aren't seen in wild animals -- until they are enclosed in zoos. And it's our wild nature which we need to look to if we wish to understand this 'background anxiety'.
A useful clue lies in phobias. The most common phobias all relate to real dangers in the environment. Fear of spiders is a good example, as is fear of heights. Both represented significant dangers to our ancestors. But wait, take a look at some of the other common phobias. Agoraphobia -- fear of open spaces. Why is this so common? Consider your hunter-gatherer ancestors, surrounded by predators and potential enemies. Being exposed is dangerous, so we have developed a natural awareness of exposure. In some people this gets out of hand, and becomes a phobia, but we are all programmed to be aware -- at the very least -- of situations where we are exposed, away from cover.
Social anxiety is also extremely common, with some studies showing 7% of adults suffering from the condition. Social anxiety can be extremely debilitating, and manifests in performance impairment in social situations. This also seems puzzling, at first glance. Why should humans, the great social species, suffer so extensively from social anxiety? The reasons lie in our unnatural population density. We simply didn't evolve to cope with such intense exposure to strangers. Every stranger you meet is, to your ancient mind, a potential enemy. It's remarkable that we all manage so well!
So you don't suffer from arachnophobia, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder or any other anxiety disorder. What's my point? Simply this. All of these small anxieties affect your performance, day by day. Meeting people is stressful, because your ancient mind insists on being alert to danger. Walking down the street is an adventure in social interaction and exposure. Making presentations at work -- exposing yourself to a crowd, possibly a crowd of strangers -- is one of the most unnatural activities a human can perform.
We all suffer from anxiety, and it affects our performance and our ability to experience joy. We all need to relax. As a hypnotherapist, I always listen out for the moment in a session when my client's tummy starts to rumble. It's a good sign. It shows that the stress chemicals which routinely circulate, holding back digestion (as well as a range of other physiological roles related to 'fight or flight') have diminished. Just think about what this means. Chances are that your body is preparing you for fight or flight right now. All you're doing is surfing the Web. Within fifteen minutes of beginning to hypnotise you, I can say with some confidence that your tummy would start gurgling and your body chemistry would be changed, because there really isn't any need for this constant state of readiness.
Being aware of background anxiety is the first step towards conquering it. Hypnotherapy is incredibly powerful in this respect, but sadly, people tend to call on hypnotherapists only when their problems have reached crisis point. In my next article I will highlight some of the signs of background anxiety.