According to the Journal of Psychopharmacology there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013. Zoe Murtagh is one of those and with Sacre Blue , her first full length solo show, she shares her experience - of trying to make anxiety a friend, of trying to conquer it, of trying to acknowledge its presence.
Anxiety is a natural state for when something causes us unease, worry or fear, it is an evolutionary response to danger where the body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin in preparation for the ‘flight or fight’. Not only do we experience anxiety as a psychological phenomena we also feel it very strongly in our bodies. We may have sweaty palms, racing hearts, feel sick, feel hyper-alert and tremble to mention a few of the sensations it can evoke.
When we experience anxiety unbidden, when we are not responding to a perceived real danger, when we are afraid of fear itself, we begin to perceive the world as a threatening place. Rather than rationalising and contextualising we catastrophise - always thinking of the worst case scenario. General Anxiety Disorder is the most common neurotic clinical disorder, affecting twice as many women than men. From being a ‘normal’ response to a situation, anxiety can become a mental health problem when it begins to impact on ones ability to manage and cope with everyday situations - we may end up feeling constantly overwhelmed or experience panic attacks for instance.
Murtagh takes us through some of her experiences of anxiety and how with the help of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy she is challenging the negative constructs and beginning to deal with the anxiety and the impact on her life. She demonstrates breathing techniques, guided staged relaxation and shares some of the origins of her pathologies. At times the props on stage become just that, props, merging theatre and psychological metaphor - a tool to aid the masking and the coping - as most people who experience acute mental health disorders are practiced at - the public face of cognitive robustness and the private collapse.
Like many psychological disorders Anxiety Disorder relies on our neural pathways being programmed to run a certain way - in this case to see the world as a threatening place. Through challenging the way we think, act and respond to certain situations we can begin to reprogram our neural pathways where more positive perceptions of the world can be experienced. Perhaps it is not so much a case of making anxiety your friend but accepting the uneasy peace of its presence. (AM)
The run of Sacre Bleu at Summerhall has now finished - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/sacre-blue
Young people and Anxiety: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/whats_worrying_you/anxiety/what_is_anxiety
Generation Y Anxiety Epidemic: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/anxiety-the-epidemic-sweeping-through-generation-y/