What's anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal and healthy reaction that arises when a person is exposed to situations that involve danger, threat or concern. This threat can be real and external or it can be a thought of anticipation of something terrible that we believe will happen.

Yes, sometimes it is an adequate and necessary response to a dangerous situation, being an essential protection mechanism for the individual and the species.

There are a series of complex abrupt changes in the functioning of the organism in order to prepare it to deal with that danger by means of fight or flight responses: the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol is increased, breathing and heart rate are accelerated to send more oxygen to the muscles and increase available energy, the immune response is increased and white blood cells are prepared to cope with infections, etc.

When it occurs in the presence of a stimulus that is interpreted as dangerous by the person, anxiety is adaptive, and therefore it is an adequate response and provides us with the energy, impulse, attention and concentration necessary to protect ourselves and face the difficulty.

Let's look at two examples:

  • before a fire warning, the anxiety response allows us to flee more quickly and be in a safe place,
  • if we have to speak to a large number of people, moderate anxiety activates us and helps us cope better with the task.

Anxiety is not adaptive, and it is a disorder, if it overwhelms us, paralyzes us, leaves our minds blank and/or deprives us to face danger or develop protection mechanisms.

Anxiety Attack

In times of high stress we can suffer an anxiety attack. These are extreme reactions with symptoms similar to a heart attack that make us very afraid, increasing our anxiety and therefore panic. It is important to know the symptoms so as not to magnify them.

The best way to help those who suffer an anxiety attack is to distract them to divert their attention from the symptoms, make them talk, understand that it is only anxiety and that nothing bad will happen to them. The goal is to avoid aggravating the symptoms.

Anxiety Disorders

We talk about Anxiety Disorders when:

  • the anxiety response occurs to everyday stimuli that are not a real external threat but are experienced as such, such as going out into the street, getting on a bus full of people, remembering a fact from the past, etc. In other words, it has no apparent cause or the response is disproportionate to the stimulus,
  • we respond to these stimuli in form of excessive worry, apprehension, future projection of negative consequences, feeling that something serious or terrible is going to happen, avoidance behaviors, uncontrolled fears..., 
  • we suffer irrational fears, intrusive feelings and diverse ideas about future calamities,
  • this type of anxiety causes us an intense anguish, an unpleasant emotion, discomfort and difficulties for a normal and healthy vital functioning,
  • the organism is in a state of alert and disproportionate activation that is exhausting.

Anxiety disorders cause physical, behavioral, cognitive and emotional symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, headaches, anxiety, nervousness, tremor, muscle tension, tachycardia, gastric discomfort, sleep problems, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo, concentration difficulties, memory loss, speech difficulties, etc.

In these situations you have to consult with a psychology professional.

Continue reading What causes me anxiety?

If you want to evaluate your level of Anxiety you can take the Anxiety Test.

To know more, to know how anxiety works in order to face it better

Our attitudes, our way of thinking, our beliefs, our way of dealing with conflicts,... condition our cortisol level and our anxiety.

Knowing, preventing and coping with anxiety.