The Anxiety Response

"Our civilization is still in the middle stage: scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinc‚Äčt; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason."

. . .Theodore Dreiser, "Sister Carrie", 1900

"Anxiety" is described in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill, an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it."

Anxiety is a normal emotional and physical response occurring when we become overwhelmed by the fear that something will happen that we may not be able to handle or that someone or something is taking away our control. The anxiety response is built in for purposes of survival. If we didn't have it, we wouldn't be able to meet deadlines or get out of danger. It is a response to an alarm message that we have sent to the subconscious part of our brain. This is not the rational part of our brains, the part with which we think, plan, and intellectualize. It is the part we share with animals, the part that is instinctive and which automatically monitors and runs our bodies ensuring our physical survival (See Dr. H. Benson's "The Relaxation Response".)If we are in a life-and-death situation, the anxiety response is essential in providing us with the physical and emotional capability to "fight" off a mugger or "flee" from a runaway truck -- hence the name "fight-flight response". If we are not really in a short-term crisis situation, however, and that alarm message is not turned off, the adrenalin, which has been pumped into our blood streams to help us react in a quick and powerful way, begins to destuctively stress us out both physically and emotionally. It is then, that we are at risk for developing disorders that not only can affect our cardiac, gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal systems, but can also affect our emotional sense of well-being and our interpersonal dynamics and can result in our developing depression and/or one of the anxiety disorders discussed on this website.

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