What Exactly IS Anxiety?

by | Oct 5, 2022

Dr. Stephanie Larsen

Clinical Pyschologist at Healthy Minds Pyschology Group

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Anxiety is apprehension, fears of danger, and worry.  We all experience anxiety at times and despite popular belief anxiety is not always bad. It can actually be helpful, keep us from danger, and improve our performance on tasks. Anxiety can be best thought of on a continuum from helpful to harmful.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

This is the body’s automatic alarm system that responds to danger and is necessary to survival. The brain tells the body that it is in danger so the body can prepare to fight the danger or flee. The fight-or-flight response is automatic and requires no conscious effort. If we came face to face with a bear we would experience fear and it would alert our fight or flight alarm. Our body becomes prepared by pumping blood faster by increasing our heart rate, perspiring, initiating “tunnel vision”, shortening our oxygen supply by causing shortness of breath, initiating racing thoughts, increasing senses such as hearing, etc.  These actions serve to protect us from the bear by either fighting or running from it. Today, our bodies and brains have not caught up with our current world. Every time we view a situation as fearful we run a risk of turning on this alarm system. When this system is initiated without true danger it results in anxiety and panic.

What to Look For?

When anxiety is in the unhelpful range it may qualify as an Anxiety Disorder. Significant anxiety doesn’t protect us, but can cause problems in our abilities to live our lives. Some general signs of anxiety may be:

Get Help!!

Anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Encourage others to speak to a professional regarding their anxiety if it is becoming problematic. A few techniques to remember are:

  • Deep Breathing
    • Take a deep breath from the abdomen rather than shallow lung breathing
    • In through your nose and out through your mouth
    • Hold between breaths for a few seconds
  • Imagery of a Positive Scene
    • Distract and focus your mind on one positive scene
    • Incorporate all your senses
    • Every time other thoughts come into your head refocus on the image
  • Relaxing Muscles
    • Tighten and loosen muscles in a systematic way
    • Helps physical adrenaline and restlessness
    • Littler kids can be taught this through creative analogies such as acting as a robot or spaghetti

** FEELINGS ARE CREATED BY THOUGHTS, so if you’d like to change your feelings you must first change the talk happening inside your head. **