What is Anxiety?

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Anxiety is a natural response to stress or potential danger, rooted in the human body’s evolutionary fight-or-flight response. It is characterized by feelings of worry, unease, or nervousness, and can occur in various situations where a person perceives a potential threat. Anxiety disorders, however, involve excessive and persistent anxiety that is disproportionate to the actual threat.

The fight-or-flight response is an adaptive physiological reaction that prepares the body to either confront or flee from a perceived threat. This response is essential for survival, as it allows individuals to quickly assess and react to potentially dangerous situations. During the fight-or-flight response, the body undergoes various changes, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and rapid breathing. These changes help to mobilize energy and increase alertness, enabling a person to better handle the situation.

what is anxiety

Anxiety disorders arise when the fight-or-flight response is triggered inappropriately or excessively, causing the individual to experience anxiety even when there is no imminent threat. This heightened response may have been advantageous in early human history when physical threats were more prevalent. However, in today’s complex social environments, we often face “symbolic” threats, such as threats to self-esteem, status, or the opinions of others. In these situations, a heightened fight-or-flight response can be maladaptive, leading to excessive anxiety and impaired functioning.

Interestingly, individuals with anxiety disorders can sometimes excel in actual crisis situations. Their heightened fight-or-flight response may allow them to remain vigilant and act quickly under pressure. However, when the perceived threat is not life-threatening or even nonexistent, the constant activation of the fight-or-flight response can be detrimental to their mental and physical health. This is akin to a high-performance race car running at 9,000 rpm while up on blocks in the garage, expending a significant amount of energy without actually going anywhere.

In conclusion, anxiety disorders result from an overactive fight-or-flight response that is no longer adaptive in modern environments, where threats are often symbolic rather than physical. This heightened response can be both a blessing and a curse, providing an advantage in crisis situations but causing distress and dysfunction in everyday life.

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