What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger which usually culminates in what is known as flight or fight response. This process involves adrenalin being pumped rapidly through the body, enabling it to cope with whatever threat it encounters.
Imagine you are a caveman out hunting when suddenly you come face-to-face with a tiger. You quickly realise you are not the only one out hunting food today! Fortunately, millions of years of evolution have endowed you with a defence system which takes control in such situations. On encountering the tiger, your hypothalamus sends a message to your adrenal glands and, hey presto! You can instantaneously hear more acutely, run faster, hit harder, see better, and think faster.
Your heart is pumping profusely, sending nutrient rich blood to your major muscles. Tiny blood vessels under your skin close down, preventing you from bleeding to death and your eyes dilate so you can see better.
All the functions of your body not needed in the imminent struggle are shut down. Digestion, sexual function, and even your immune system are temporarily suspended; whilst excess waste is jettisoned to make you more mobile. Your supercharged body is now set to deal with the threat.
Jump forward to the present day. You and the caveman are equipped with the same warning system. You are summoned to a meeting with your boss. You can’t fight or you can’t flee, so you are lumbered with an excess of pent-up energy. You feel like you’re going to explode. Your boss begins to speak. “I’m sacked,” you think to yourself. But, to your amazement, you’re offered a promotion! The activation of your warning system was a false alarm. Too many false alarms can lead to stress-related disorders such as:
- high blood pressure
- immune system disorders
- migraine headaches
- heart disease
- sexual dysfunction
Is anxiety treatable?
As we have seen, anxiety is an innate part of our biological and psychological make-up; it is fundamental to our survival, often serving as a warning system for danger. As such, we do not want to ‘cure’ it. However, when it exceeds its practical functioning and becomes excessive and distorted, it can result in daily dysfunction and severely disrupt the life of an individual.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including: panic disorder, phobias – such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder (social phobia). The physical symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Butterflies in stomach
- Urge to pass urine/empty bowels
- Pins and needles
- Chest tightness
- Inner tension
- Fear of losing control
- Racing heartbeat
- Dread that something catastrophic is going to happen (such as blackout, seizure, heart attack or death)
- Feelings of detachment
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)