- An extremely stressful or traumatic event (for example: loss of a loved one, job loss, major injury)
- Severe chronic stress, from an ongoing situation, for example:
o ongoing health problems of self or other family member
o threat of losing job or home
o stressful work situation
o career ‘burnout’
o relationship problems
o financial problems
- Some medical conditions, particularly those that affect the nervous and endocrine systems (e.g. overactive thyroid)
- Extreme hormonal changes, for example after childbirth (an extreme form of ‘baby blues’) or around menopause
- Major surgery, particularly abdominal surgery (interrupts normal breathing patterns making hyperventilation more likely), or when there is a lot of blood loss
- Chronic unhealthy thinking patterns (habitual worry, catastrophizing, resistance, avoidance, negative self-talk)
Sometimes it can be a case of the ‘perfect storm’ of factors coinciding at a certain time of your life.
When the nervous system becomes ‘sensitised’, it is more sensitive than normal. It is hypersensitive, and overreacts to stimuli. The sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of the nervous system are out of balance – the sympathetic system is too dominant. The nervous system becomes stuck in ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. The brain becomes hyper-alert, so even small stimuli can set off a disproportionate reaction, including big surges of adrenaline. The mind can race or become stuck in obsessive thought patterns. Sleeping may be difficult and appetite may be reduced or it may be difficult to eat at all. It can be difficult or impossible to ever feel relaxed or comfortable when in this state.
Unfortunately this sensitised state can be easily maintained by a vicious cycle of anxiety and fear. The good news is that this state does not have to be permanent - the cycle can be broken. More about the anxiety cycle next time.