I’m often asked what’s the most common condition that people seek my help for and the answer is anxiety. I thought it might be useful to give a little more insight into what can be a debilitating condition.

Anxiety can take different forms; it may be caused by behaviour learned in childhood, as a consequence of a traumatic incident, or through the impact of major life events. It can have its roots in any of these but can also be added to by many aspects of day-to-day life.

Anxiety is just the way in which our mind and body respond to anything we perceive as a threat, triggering the fight-or-flight response that’s been with us since caveman days. Think how you feel when you’re anxious; your heart starts racing, getting the blood pumping to your legs in case you choose to run or to your arms in case you opt to fight.

We don’t encounter sabre-toothed tigers anymore but we still face situations that can trigger anxiety. Work stress, relationship ups and downs, taking care of the kids… all of these can take their toll.

Anxiety is like a car alarm. If the alarm goes off when somebody tries to break into the car then it’s done its job properly. However, if it’s too sensitive and goes off at the slightest gust of wind then it becomes a problem. When anxiety is too easily triggered it can also become a problem rather than an aid.

What can cause this overstimulation? Well, for one thing, we’re bombarded with more information than ever before. Now we no longer just have newspapers, TV and radio but also Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

It can be hard to keep up with everything that’s going on and that can play on what’s become known as FOMO – fear of missing out. How often have you looked around you to see people on their smartphones, avidly scrolling through Facebook updates or Twitter feeds? Added to this, we can feel under pressure to look like the celebrities we see in the media, to have the glitzy consumer goods that we may see friends showing off on Facebook or even to have the apparently glamorous and stress-free relationships that a photograph on Instagram can seem to portray.

Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses has been around for years, as has a desire to emulate the rich and famous, but we’re living in a time of saturated exposure and that takes its toll.

The good news is that you can do something about excessive feelings of anxiety. The first step? Breathe. It may sound simple but when we’re stressed we can struggle to get enough oxygen to our brain, making it hard to think clearly. Deep breaths will slow your heartbeat down and help you to relax.

Once you’ve begun to get the physical aspect under control, you can start dealing with the mental impact of anxiety. Try challenging the thoughts that are flooding your mind. Pause and ask yourself ‘is the world really going to end if you don’t end up buying that house/car/outfit?’, ‘are you really a bad parent if you don’t cook from scratch every night like a TV chef?’, ‘will anyone at the party really think any less of you for not being a size 8?’

Lastly, sign out of your social media accounts and go for a walk. Fresh air, gentle exercise and the chance to clear your head will reconnect you to the real world, not the world of worry you’ve created in response to what others might do, think or say.

In short, give yourself a break.

The photo originally published by Kai Schreiber under Creative Commons License.

This article was originally published in Dunfermline Press in February 2015.