Anxiety: A Natural Part of Living

Anxiety is a natural part of living. It is probably the most basic of all emotions. Not only is it experienced by all humans, but responses have been found in all species of animals. Experiences vary tremendously in their severity from mild uneasiness to extreme terror and panic. Everyday we experience a certain amount of uneasiness. Everybody knows how it feels to be uptight.

Take for example the time when you go out on your first date and feel weak-kneed or when your exams are coming up and it makes you scared or when you have to give a speech before a huge crowd and feel butterflies in your stomach. This sort of anxiety arouses you to action. It gears you up to take up the situation and is characterized by an adrenalin rush. These incidents are common place.

However many times, such experiences can be harrowing and terrifying. They may be persistent and may interfere with normal functioning. This situation is caused by anxiety disorders. An estimated 19 million Americans suffer from this. Celebrities include Nicolas Cage, Alanis Morisette, Courtney Love, Sigmund Freud and Naomi Campbell.

A psychiatric definition of this is: a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning. In contrast to fear it often involves an unconscious threat. Fear involves actual danger but anxiety involves a threat we are not aware of.

It is a response to danger or threat. Scientifically, immediate or short term anxiety is termed the fight/flight response. It is so named because all of its effects are aimed toward either fighting or fleeing the danger. Thus, the number one purpose for anxiety is to protect the organism. This serves many functions, but two main ones are:-

1) It helps prepare our body for action, make us more alert, ready to fight or flee from any threat to our body. This is related to the direct symptoms such as fast heartbeat, rapid pulse, rapid breathing, nervous behavior, trembling etc.

2) It causes us to plan ahead for any imminent dangers and how to tackle them. The unfortunate effect of this is that we can get uptight just thinking about situations.

It expresses itself through three separate systems and it is important to identify these systems. The three systems are:

1) Mental System:

The actual feelings of nervousness and panic and includes thoughts such as “there is something wrong to exist in such a system.

2) Physical System

This includes all the physical symptoms such as dizziness, sweating, palpitations, chest pain, and breathlessness

3) Behavioral System

This includes the actual activities such as pacing, foot tapping and avoidance

It can however be a disorder if its effects are long lasting. Generally these disorders can be grouped into:

1) Generalized Disorders
2) Panic Disorders
3) Social Disorders
4) Phobias
5) Post traumatic Stress Disorders
6) Obsessive Compulsive Disorders

Anxiety, hence maybe a normal occurrence or may become a disorder. The importance is to determine which of the two cases it falls under. The former requires no treatment, the latter is treatable.