Anxiety, stress, and the nervous system

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Over three million Canadians—about 11% of the population—have reported they have anxiety disorders. For many of those people, their illness makes basic tasks like leaving the house or going to work difficult or even painful.

Registered Psychotherapist Maryanne Nicholls says that some of this anxiety is a result of our competitive society—the perceived need to keep up with or beat everyone else.

“It’s epidemic in our society,” she says. “The scarcity mentality will always make somebody anxious … because it feels like they’re competing for everything.”

This activates the autonomic nervous system and triggers a fight or flight response. The fight or flight instinct is supposed to be switched “off” most of the time, says Nicholls. But people with anxiety go through most of life with it switched on. That long term stress can have serious effects.

Nicholls sees many clients who are well past their youth, but just beginning to address their anxiety. That’s because of the toll it puts on their bodies.

“When we were young, we could get away with it,” she says. “But in midlife, starting in our late 30s and going into our 40s and 50s, we can't get away with it anymore.”

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