Anxiety, stress, burnout and overwhelm

What is anxiety, and how does it arise?

Anxiety is our brain and body’s response to circumstances that are threatening, potentially dangerous, or potentially damaging.  It becomes chronic, or long-lasting for the brain, when it feels cannot manage in general, usually because of a perceived or real inability to engage in orientation (finding out what is going on), fight (moving towards the issue and engaging or doing something about it), or flight (avoiding or running away).  Our brains need to be able to identify what is happening, and feel that we have a way to deal with it, or run away if necessary.  Without this, there will be anxiety.

The three states of orientation, fight and flight are crucial for our survival and wellbeing, and we need to be able to switch them on and off as required.  This happens unconsciously.  Remember that emotional responses and unconscious (survival) brain reactions happen in the body first, long before our rational brains realise that something has happened.  

Here’s how it works:

When we don’t know what is happening (but we know it’s not good), we feel really anxious.  We can’t orientate, and we may become hypervigilant, and at the same time still not really see what is going on.

When we can’t do anything about what is going on or we can’t get away or avoid it, we also feel really anxious.  We can’t fight or flee.  Fight, which is just our physiological state for ‘getting something done’ can become impossible to access, so we feel helpless and frustrated.  Flight, which is just avoiding what you don’t want to engage with, can become impossible, so we feel frightened and trapped.

Equally, when we have too much orientation, or fight, or flight in our systems, we feel really anxious as well, because the states are not working as they should, or we need to engage them relentlessly.  Too much orientation can make us hypervigilant, always on red alert.  Fight, which is neither aggressive, nor hostile, when it is healthy, can become both aggressive and hostile when there is too much, or it is not working, or safe to engage.  Flight, which is just getting out of the way of something or someone, can make us feel terrified and trapped if there is too much, or if we just can’t get away.

Of course, when our unconscious brains, and our body, are reacting like this, there will be psychological effects, in our thinking, in our imaginations, and in our decisions and judgements.  This can wreak havoc with our emotional life and making sensible or rational decisions.

Anxiety, unrelenting stress, and generalised, background stress can affect us both physically and psychologically. Often the two are interlinked.  In fact, we need to work with the physical symptoms as much as with the psychological fallout, as anxiety starts in the body, not in the mind. 

Symptoms of anxiety can accompany other conditions, or appear on their own.  

Here are some of the psychological signs that our unconscious brain is trying to keep us safe, but is stopping us from feeling free.  We feel: 

  • overwhelmed by events and circumstances
  • not wanting to engage with others
  • anxious, not coping very well
  • not able to make decisions
  • frightened of making the wrong decision
  • losing sight of where we want to be going
  • not knowing who we are any more
  • not knowing where we fit in
  • feeling stuck with no way out
  • frightened to change
  • frightened of making a mistake
  • forever procrastinating
  • full of doubt
  • low self-esteem
  • mildly envious of other people who seem to be so happy in life, and just do what they want
  • bamboozled by life

Physical symptoms of anxiety include these:

  • heart racing
  • shallow breathing
  • tightness around the chest (this is linked with shallow breathing)
  • giddiness
  • brain fog
  • jaw ache
  • tension in the arms or legs
  • stomach tension
  • IBS symptoms
  • sweating
  • vision problems
  • sleep problems
  • inability to relax physically
  • freeze
  • a feeling of being cut off from the world


Our body is trying to help us

Our body has not ‘turned against us’ in its attempts to keep us on ‘red alert’ or in ‘escape mode’, or ‘fight mode’, rather, it is doing its best to keep us safe in what it sees as dangerous circumstances. It is as if our nervous system hasn’t realised that the danger is over, or that there is no danger, because it hasn’t been able to return to its ‘relaxed normal’ setting.

This can eventually result in symptoms ranging from anxiety and panic attacks to physical pain conditions such as back pain, migraines and jaw pain, and eventually syndromes such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, skin disorders and ‘psychosomatic’ illnesses.

What do we do about it?

We need to approach anxiety at three levels:  the real world level, the brain-body level, and the psychological level.

The real world level:  if there is something going on in your real world, which is dangerous, damaging, threatening or abusive, your anxiety is appropriate, and doing its proper job.  Please find help to deal with whatever it is that is going on. 

Firstly, find out what is going on.  Sometimes that is not obvious, so it can be helpful to ask someone trusted to look at it with you.  This is orientation at both the rational and unconscious brain level.

Secondly, ask someone to help you do something about it, if this is appropriate or possible.  This is fight.

Thirdly, ask someone to help you get away, if this is appropriate or possible.  This is flight.

The brain-body level:  if you have done what you can to identify, do something about, or escape a real world threat, and the anxiety is still there, then we need to look at whether your brain has got so used to the threat, that it hasn’t realised it is no longer there.  We can see if if our nervous system has realised that the danger is over, or not there at all, and help it return to a more healthy, ‘relaxed normal’ setting.  There is a programme below which will help you with this.

The psychological level:  when the anxiety in our brain and body has caused our rational brain to try to work out what to do, this can cause all sorts of anxious thinking loops, catastrophising, endless ruminating, and worrying.  Working with this is different from working with the unconscious brain’s responses, and there are programmes below which you can access.

“Anne’s treatment was highly effective with amazing results.  Relieved to find something that works.”

MJ, Edinburgh

For the brain-body level:  The Calm, Confident Brain

For access to online coaching for immediate help and to learn how to change unconscious brain patterns please go to The Calm,  Confident Brain.  The fee for this video programme is £120 single payment and I have drawn together all the essentials of dealing with anxiety and overwhelm.  The programme is immediately accessible and has no end date.  There is group support via the private FaceBook group Calm Confident Brain Posse, where I hang out to give you support and encouragement and to celebrate your wins and answer any questions you have.  It’s a place for encouragement and support so you are not doing this alone!  If you are not sure whether the programme is a good fit for your needs, please do give me a ring.For the psychological level:  Discover Your Sense of Self

For the psychological level: Connecting with your Sense of Self:

To help you when you are feeling lost and aimless, or not sure of who you are.  A video programme, in which I show you easy but powerful exercises lead you to discover and connect with who you are, deep down inside, so that you can find purpose and live your life.  The fee is £49 one time payment, and you have access straight away.  Click here for the programme Connecting with your Sense of Self.

Further programmes for the psychological level:

Free programmes are available, and you can access them from here.  These will give you immediate help, and also let you see how I work, before booking on to a paid programme.  You are welcome to any or all of the free programmes!   Please click on the links to gain access to each programme.

Morning anxiety

A free video series for everyone who battles morning anxiety and needs the tools to get their day started with confidence.  Here are five tried and tested, highly effective ways to get you up and enjoying the morning!   This was a facebook series and is available at no cost before it is rerecorded professionally.  Click on the blue link above to access this series.

Escaping anxious thinking loops

Discover how to deal with catastrophising, generalising, labelling, personalising, and the natural negative bias, so you can feel reassured, and make the right decisions for you.  This was a facebook series and is available at no cost before it is rerecorded professionally.  Access this by clicking on the blue link above.

The three most common mistakes in making big decisions

A PDF download.  Discover the three most common mistakes in making big decisions:  how and why to avoid them, and what to do instead.  Click on the blue link above for your download.

Saying “NO” like a pro

We often find it very difficult to say “no” without sounding rude, selfish, or without inviting conflict.  It helps to have the words, and to know how to say them.  With this PDF download you can discover how to hold your ground, say what you want (and what you don’t want), and how to say “No” without being rude.  Discover the rules and use the mix and match words and phrases to be gentle but firm.  Click on the blue link above.

Changing how we feel about money

This is a 21 day email challenge to root out your negative or harmful beliefs about money, wealth, and what it feels like to have money.  Each day there is a new email with a short exercise, as I guide you through rooting out beliefs and thoughts, deciding which ones you want to keep and which you want to leave behind, and, of course, which new beliefs and thoughts you want to take on.  Bit by bit you will find new beliefs to substitute for the old, unwanted ones, and you’ll also discover how to install these beliefs so they stay with you and become automatic.  There’s a video series to accompany the emails in the facebook group, which you can access when you join.  Click on the blue link above to start.

This programme is based on neuroscience and utilises current research into how we automate thoughts and beliefs (and behaviours!) so they become unconscious – a little like how we ride a bike or use our phones, without having to consciously think about how to do it.  


Where symptoms are more intense and include flashbacks, freeze and dissociative states, Somatic Experiencing® practitioners can help with one-to-one work.  Joolz Flynn, director of the Pain Recovery Clinic, who is an experienced Somatic Experiencing® practitioner in Edinburgh, may have spaces.