In this section, we shall briefly discuss a few of the more extreme effects which anxiety can have on the human body. These effects can be very alarming; indeed, many people who experience them rush to a doctor with the firm conviction that they are physically ill. We therefore hope that this section will provide both reassurance and explanation. The problems which we discuss are:

  • depersonalization and derealization
  • panic and palpitations (Irregular heartbeats)
  • difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • feelings of collapse, muscular weakness or 'trembling'

Depersonalization and derealization

Depersonalization and derealization are two variations of the same experience. Depersonalization refers to a feeling of separation from your body; derealization to a feeling of separation from your surroundings.

During depersonalization, an individual feels as though he has become removed, cut off or disembodied from himself. He feels as though he is a detached observer looking down from a separate place, dispassionately watching himself and his actions.

The feeling lasts anything from a few seconds to a few hours and starts and stops abruptly. Derealization may involve mild feelings of unreality which persist for weeks; this is even more bizarre because it seems as though you are separate from the world in which you are walking about!

Perhaps the nearest analogy is a theatrical one you are in the environment of the production, but not a part of the production itself. Both these types of feelings of unreality are a natural consequence of 'too much anxious introspection which of course means that one tends to concentrate on one's own feelings and experiences rather than on what is happening in the world around you.

The best way of dealing with depersonalization and derealization is simply to accept the feelings as a natural part of anxiety, because the problem eases when one stops worrying about the way one feels. It becomes even less troublesome as any background anxiety also decreases.

Panic and palpitations (strong or irregular heartbeats)

The key to understanding feelings of panic lies in the fact that anxiety tends to escalate. This is because panic is not so much caused by a fear of a place or situation or object, as by a fear of the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety. An anxious person may respond to small shocks or startle with exaggerated arousal ('first fear').

The anxious individual then notices his pounding heart, increasing tension and feelings of apprehension, whereupon he or she begins to worry about what will happen next ('second fear').

And, as we have already explained, such thoughts produce even more anxiety and tension - until it spirals out of control, accompanied by a frighteningly strong belief that 'something terrible' is about to happen.

Palpitations are alarming and may even make a person wonder if his heart is about to stop or even burst. This may sound slightly amusing, but it represents a real fear for some people. Of course, the heart will neither stop nor burst, however strong or irregular its beats may be.

Both panic and palpitations become less noticeable as anxiety decreases. However, if you find that they are especially troublesome, you can tackle them with self-hypnosis. For the tape recorder technique, suitable suggestions would include:

'Panic and palpitations are troubling you less and less often, less and less severely all the time now.'

Difficulty in breathing or swallowing

Anxiety can increase tension in the muscles of the throat and chest to the point where it may seem impossible to swallow or to expand the chest. However, the brain will not allow breathing to stop for so long that any harm occurs, and it is only muscle tension produced by anxiety which prevents a normal breathing rhythm from being maintained.

Thus, if your breathing becomes irregular during an anxiety attack, you should not worry about it, for that will only make the tension worse. Simply make a relaxed conscious effort to bring it back to normal.

Do not, however, breathe too rapidly or too deeply for too long, because that will remove too much carbon dioxide from the blood and may lead to dizziness or cause a tingling sensation in the muscles. If this happens, you may find that your subconscious breathing control centre temporarily stops your breathing while a normal balance is restored.

Difficulty in swallowing or a 'lump in the throat' are also extremely common effects of anxiety. They are, once again, a result of muscle tension. Although uncomfortable, they certainly do not usually indicate any serious problem (but see 'other effects' below).

Feelings of collapse, muscular 'weakness' or trembling

These feelings are caused by the interaction of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which influence opposing muscles in the skeletal system. Additionally, diversion of blood to and from the skin can cause slight feelings of dizziness or giddiness as one's blood pressure fluctuates. Although these effects may be very marked, they do not signify any real muscular weakness, and the way to overcome them is to accept them, avoid worrying about them, relax and direct your attention to the task in hand.

As an aside, I would suggest that one of the best ways of stress-proofing yourself is to undergo the rituals and processes which allow you to move from immature masculinity to fully mature masculinity (or indeed feminine power).

Other effects

The stress associated with anxiety can produce many other symptoms: pain, visual disturbances, peculiar mental sensations, apparently real physical 'illness' and so on. It is important to understand that such symptoms can be expected with anxiety, and are not a sign of physical illness. Nevertheless, it is clearly sensible to see a doctor before dealing with your anxiety.


Occasionally, the physical effects of anxiety can be really inconvenient and embarrassing. For example, a businessman anxious about meeting people may find that his palms are damp with perspiration, and this can make personal introductions and shaking hands into an ordeal.

(If you shake hands with someone whose palms are sweating, you know he is anxious - and it simply isn't very pleasant, anyway.) In cases like these, self-hypnosis can be helpful. We have already indicated how you could use specific suggestions to deal with feelings of panic and palpitations.

Another example, for the businessman mentioned above, might be: 'You are becoming more calm and relaxed when you are meeting people. You find that hand perspiration and feelings of nervousness are troubling you less and less all the time now.'

This kind of treatment should produce a gradual and steady improvement. In combination with the other techniques we mention, it represents a powerful tool for self change.


Next: specific anxiety states and what to do about them

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