A bit about anxiety
From time to time, everyone experiences normal fear – the uncomfortable feelings of tension and worry that something bad might happen. These feelings are healthy reactions to actual or possible danger. They are due to the biological “fight or flight” response in our bodies triggered by the substances adrenaline and noradrenaline released into the bloodstream whenever we sense danger.
Physical symptoms include thumping or racing heart, sweating, trembling, tight chest, fast breathing, a lump in the throat and tense muscles. Your body is keyed up, on edge and ready for possible action. When faced with real or possible danger to yourself or others, this is exactly what you would want your body to be doing, even though the sensations may be unpleasant.
Although anxiety involves exactly the same “fight or flight” response and hence similar symptoms, it differs from fear in that it is a response to possible future danger. It acts like an early warning system.
As we go through life, we learn that some situations are potentially dangerous or risky. When we anticipate such situations arising in the future we experience anxiety. For example, if we were once involved in a car accident on an icy road, we may experience anxiety whenever we have to drive on icy roads in the future. We learn that this is a potentially dangerous situation and so our bodies are programmed to be hypervigilant. Like fear, anxiety is a healthy reaction.
If you are suffering from problematic anxiety, you are experiencing the same “fight or flight” response as described above, but for you these thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms are triggered even when there is no obvious sign of danger, or they are far in excess of what others experience in the same situation. The anxiety can be a general feeling that is with you often or it can be triggered by specific situations such as driving or being in public spaces.
In this case your body is experiencing a false alarm. You are likely to be over-estimating the risks and so your body is unnecessarily on standby for possible danger. The feelings may come out of the blue, they may even wake you up at night. You may spend hours thinking about and fearing the feelings and this may prevent you from doing important activities in your life.