Anxiety Overview

Written On: April 16, 2016

By: Vickie R. Lemon

The actual definition of anxiety is “a state of being uneasy, apprehensive, or worried about what may happen.” It includes other characteristics as well such as a “feeling of being powerless and unable to cope with threatening events…[characterized] by physical tension.” This description seems to fit well with how a lot of people go through their lives these days. Many more people are seeking professional help for anxiety and in fact, emotional disorders are outdistancing other disorders in terms of diagnosis. People may not even know that anxiety is the cause of their symptoms because it can manifest both physically and mentally.

Anxiety and Emotions

portrait of a woman holding her head The majority of people in the world have to deal with some amount of anxiety. Many circumstances people come into contact with on a daily basis warrant an anxious reaction, which is a normal reaction. Some of these circumstances are as momentous as death, losing a job, or getting a divorce; others are relatively minor like giving a speech or going to an event where there will be a lot of people.

Even though getting anxious is a normal reaction to these situations, how anxiety manifests in each person can be different. Some people respond in a completely normal way while others respond out of proportion to the severity of the situation. Anxiety disorders arise if these anxiety symptoms do not go away or become debilitating in some way. Certain people experience anxiety that is so severe that they are unable to normally interact with other people.

Anxiety and Physiology

The majority of people who get anxiety disorders experience mental symptoms, but some of these people also get physical symptoms as well. When people are put in anxious situations, their bodies trigger a reaction that is called “fight-or-flight.” This is a natural reaction to anything that is seen as a danger, even if it isn’t real. The thoughts and emotions of a person are what cause the anxious feelings. Sometimes, these reactions arise in times of excitement as well. This response is the way the body protects itself by producing extra energy very quickly to either get away from the threat or face it head on.

The fight-or-flight reaction gets it start in the nervous system. This system is made up of the brain, the nerves, and the spinal cord. There are two components of the nervous system. There is the involuntary nervous system, which is also called the autonomic nervous system, and the voluntary nervous system.

portrait of a woman comforting her friend The involuntary nervous system controls bodily functions that people do not need to think about. It controls pulse, muscle tightness, breathing, blood flow, and glandular function. There are also two components to the involuntary nervous system. There is the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system controls the high end of physiology and the parasympathetic system controls the low end of physiology. As an illustration, if a person’s pulse rate speeds up, the parasympathetic system is responsible for slowing it back down.

The fight-or-flight reaction tells the sympathetic system to increase the production and release of adrenaline and cortisone from the glands. This in turn raises the heart rate and pulse. The breathing is also sped up and the extremities get cold because the blood is being directed elsewhere. Moreover, muscles get tight and sugar is released from the liver to speed up various systems in the body such as the digestive system and the metabolic system.

If people experience anxiety attacks, this means that the sympathetic system is over-sensitive. Their bodies are always ready to respond to any danger, real or not and their bodies are kept in an anxious state for most of the time.

The voluntary nervous system controls actions that people are aware of. As an illustration, if a person touches a hot barbecue grill, the voluntary system tells the brain that it is painful. The brain tells the hand to get it away from the heat source.