What Is Anxiety?The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of the Anxiety Toolbox Program:
Anxiety is feared for the myriad of symptoms that take hold of our bodies and shake up our emotions to the core of our beings. Below is a list of commonly recognized anxiety symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- Sense of impending doom
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle tension; muscle aches; trembling or twitching in the muscles
- Chest pain
- Dry mouth
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Excessive sweating
- Under-eating or over-eating
- Sense of unreality, spaciness, or detachment from oneself.
- Fatigue, headache
- Breathlessness; hyperventilation
- Loss of sex drive
- Being easily startled
Ours has been called the age of anxiety. In popular speech, the term “anxiety” usually means no more than worry or concern. In clinical medicine, it is defined specifically as a painful and disproportional apprehension or uneasiness about an impending or anticipated ill fortune. It is an emotional reaction that manifests itself in various physical symptoms of different degrees of intensity. In true anxiety disorders, the fear response is exaggerated and unreasonable. In everyday, normal anxiety, the fear reaction is understandable and in proportion to the stress at hand. The Anxiety Toolbox provides effective tools for controlling both normal anxiety as well as anxiety from diagnosed anxiety disorders.
Good Anxiety—Bad Anxiety
In anxiety we find a duality that lies at the core of the human experience. On one side, anxiety is a great motivator, protector and teacher. It motivates us to succeed out of fear of failure, and protects us from danger by triggering our anxiety alarm when we are confronted by situations that threaten harm. It teaches us to re-evaluate our lives, values and priorities by refusing to let us ignore or distract ourselves from an unhealthy lifestyle. Some say that anxiety is also the catalyst for human spiritual growth.
On the other side, however, we see lives, careers, and families destroyed by unrelenting anxiety. There comes a point where anxiety has gone beyond its positive benefits and no longer is helpful. When it is severe and unrelenting, anxiety degrades, demoralizes and paralyses us so that we can no longer move forward with confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm. This is pathologic anxiety, where we can only see the hopeless side of the coin. We no longer see the world in proper perspective, and are unable to appreciate the good and positive truths about our lives. This level of anxiety causes us to move away from a life-affirming mind-set and into a realm of self-absorption and negativity.
For some, this state of negativity is a prison from which they cannot escape due to chemical and structural brain imbalances. For them, the road to recovery will necessarily require medical intervention and psychotherapy. For others, the wisdom of the tried and true remedies in this program will be all that is needed for recovery and long-term remission from anxiety.
The Concept of Dread
We have all experienced the physical symptoms of anxiety throughout our lives. Some of the many common symptoms include physical sensations, like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweats, nausea, tremors, dizziness, chest pains, numbness and tingling, and a general feeling that we might die or are on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe, like a heart attack or stroke. Other symptoms involve cognitive impairments, such as inability to focus, concentrate, or make decisions, or a sense of unreality, spaciness, or detachment from oneself.
These symptoms are caused by the “mind-body response.” That is, when the mind experiences anxiety, certain areas deep within the primitive part of the human brain begin to react and activate. Although many areas of the brain are involved in allowing us to experience and process emotions, the amygdale, basal ganglia, and hypothalamus are the origins of the fear/anxiety response. When aroused, they send signals to other areas within the brain and the body as part of a natural and pre-programmed reaction known as “fight or flight”.
This brain reaction to stress can actually be seen on a SPECT scan. Those deep, emotional centers of the brain “heat up” on the scan due to increased metabolic activity caused by stress. These centers, in turn, are in conversation with the rest of the body by both hormonal messengers and direct nerve connections. By stimulating our glands, especially the adrenal glands, a large amount of “stress hormones,” like adrenalin and cortisol, are released into the body.
Activation of these glands and organs is designed to protect us from the threat we are facing. Whether we need to flee or stay and fight, our body will be better able to react in a way that best insures survival. The heart will need to beat faster and stronger, our muscles will need better circulation, our mind will need to be jolted into alertness, and we will need a sudden surge of energy.
But imagine if there is really nothing that is seriously threatening us. This mind-body activation is still going to cause all the unpleasant symptoms of the “fight or flight” response. We will experience anxiety symptoms, including the rapid heart rate, chest pains, sweats, and nausea. At the same time, the higher centers of the brain are in a state of overload. Just as your computer slows down if it has too many programs running, your brain experiences loss of focus and concentration during times of anxiety.
When Anxiety Goes Terribly Wrong
In anxiety disorders, the anxiety response is out of proportion to the level of actual threat we are facing. In other words, our mind is setting off false alarms. This inevitably leads to a very disrupted and unpleasant existence, where we are consumed by our fears and the fear of more fear! In this state, it is impossible to live productively and joyfully in the present moment. This is how anxiety can steal weeks, months, and even years away from our lives. Many of the techniques in the Anxiety Toolbox program have been scientifically shown to “cool down” and soothe those deep emotional centers, allowing the mind to relax and quiet itself. Once you know how to do this, you will no longer be at the mercy of your anxious emotions.