Why we need anxiety
The human body is programmed to survive. When our ancestors woke up and walked to the front of the cave, they may have found themselves face-to-face with a hungry bear. When they saw the bear, their bodies would sound the alarms of “threat!” The body responds by shooting out adrenaline and cortisol so they could act with the fight or flight response. The act of fighting off the bear or running away from the bear would use the adrenaline their body produced. When the physical exertion is over, the body returns to a normal hormone level. Anxiety is not a bad thing. It helps us to recognize a threat and to respond appropriately so we can survive.
The problem with anxiety today.
The problem with anxiety today is that our brain sometimes sends the “threat!” alarm when no real threat is present. You may respond with anxiety when the teacher hands out a test or when your boss calls you in for a meeting. The problem with these situations is that you, at least I assume you won’t, fight your teacher or boss or run away from the situation. So, stewing happens. The adrenaline and anxiety symptoms build with no ability to release them.
How anxiety may present:
- Increased heart rate, pulse, blood sugar, and blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Restless or high internal energy
- The desire to control people and events
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Feeling agitated or angry
- Defiance and other challenging behaviors
- Having high expectations for yourself (work, school, sports)
- Avoiding activities or events
- Pain like stomachaches and headaches
- Struggling to pay attention and focus
- Intolerance of uncertainty
- Crying and difficulty managing emotions
- Over planning for situations
- Feeling worried about situations
Emotions are a cycle.
Emotions are energy in motion. They must have a proper cycle to feel, process, and release those emotions in order for you to return to your baseline. Without that proper cycle, the energy from the emotion builds up and makes you vulnerable to emotional and physical problems.
There are several ways of coping with anxiety in the moment that can help lessen the intensity of the fight or flight response.
- Deep breathing
- Yoga or meditation
- Call a friend
- See a therapist
- Read a book
- Take a hot shower or bath
- Listen to music
- Take a walk in nature
- Get a massage
Coping skills are essential in the moment of anxiety and to be proactive in slowing the fight or flight response. Coping skills help you to recognize in the moment that it is a false alarm, and you don’t need to signal the “threat” response for that situation.
The end goal for managing anxiety with the false alarms is to rewire the brain to prevent these false alarms from happening. However, we want to keep the foundations of our anxiety because that is what prevents us from walking into dangerous situations. It is simply a matter of correcting the false alarms while staying in tune with the true alarms. Talking with a therapist, journaling, and positive affirmations are all proactive ways to help raise awareness around triggers, emotions, thoughts, and the underlying fear that is activating the fight or flight response to fully overcome your anxiety.