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Anxiety – The cogs behind the fear

Anxiety has quickly become an inescapable epidemic in the UK

Anxiety. The word creates a tremor for those who’ve either suffered with it or those that are close to someone who does. It is a disorder that can imprison people at the mention of their phobic stimulus and it is on the rise. Research by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP, 2017), conveys that rates of moderate to extreme anxiety amongst workers has soared by 30.5% since records began in 2013. In 2013 alone, 8.2 million cases of anxiety were recorded throughout the UK in what many would constitute as a ‘silent epidemic’.

Like a dozen swatters to a particularly swollen fly, the self-help and personal development community latched onto the rising tide of cases and brought with it a flurry of books and programmes to challenge the condition. Before we see what variations of treatment are available in next week’s article, it would be appropriate to question why we are suddenly more anxious as a nation.

It seems that modern life allows people very little time to bring their body to a state of true
relaxation. There is an argument that today’s society creates a dangerous cooking pot of two
potentially stress releasing hormones known as dopamine and cortisol.

Dopamine is the hormone that creates the rush to the next goal that releases feelings of accomplishment and success. For you at work this might be anything from the company bonus to being the first that brings the boss their morning coffee. As a student it might be completing a task set by a tutor for an early release from lessons (bribery at its finest). However, these feelings are
brief, as another goal is quickly placed on top. Nature has made us goal orientated creatures to keep us moving forwards. Yet when we don’t feel like we’re moving forwards, or that somebody has
already beaten us to our goal, that can be more than enough to create stress and anxiety.

This is because dopamine is highly addictive and we feel that we need to keep experiencing that rush to achieve happiness. For example, people that fear the glare of the sun (heliophobics) might cover every inch of skin on a sunny day to avoid a single beam making contact with them. They may have accomplished their goal of avoiding the sun for that day, but they will come up against the same goal the next day. So in our constant quest for the dopamine honeypot, we are making ourselves more and more anxious if we are not achieving the addictive feelings of reaching and completing a target.

Public enemy number two is cortisol. Imagine collecting water from a stream before seeing
suspicious ripples on its glassy surface. Your mind is immediately held in suspense, leaping to the
conclusion that something dangerous waits under those waters. This is the release of cortisol into
our bloodstream, a hormone that conveys that we should prepare for danger. Cortisol is often in
abundance at work environments that have a high lay off rate, as employees are constantly
anticipating the loss of their jobs the next day. This contributes significantly to anxiety levels as we can never fully predict the unknown outcome.

These hormones can be extremely useful to us. Dopamine can help us latch onto goals and targets to complete them successfully. Cortisol can alert us to danger when we need it. But with an imbalance of these hormones, anxiety is likely to be conceived as a response. With the rise in company lay-offs, squeezing cortisol from the working environments and dopamine driven objectives such as gaining a substantial amount of social media friends, is it any wonder that the nation is suffering from a rise in anxiety disorders?