How does anxiety work?
We all deal with anxiety in some form day to day. But anxiety can be a much stronger, more fearsome force for many people — one that never goes away. What is anxiety exactly, and what’s going on in your mind (and your body) when anxiety strikes?
Anxiety itself is a natural human response that serves a purpose. Our goal shouldn’t be to dismiss it entirely but to make it a healthy, manageable part of our lives. Even if you don’t suffer from an anxiety-related disorder, anxiety is part of our world, the same way stress, sadness and happiness are.
What Anxiety Is, and How It Differs from Stress
Anxiety is a sense of fear and apprehension that puts you on alert. Biologically, it’s designed to put us in a heightened sense of awareness so we’re prepared for potential threats. Unfortunately, when we start to feel excessive anxiety, or we live in a constant state of anxiety, we’re in trouble. In chronic anxiety, our bodies never turn off our fight or flight response, and we live with the physical and emotional effects of anxiety on a day-to-day basis, even when there’s no reason or cause for them.
On its face, anxiety can look like stress; but the reality isn’t so simple. Anxiety can arise as a result of stress, but stress can manifest in other ways. Stressors can make a person sad, angry, worried or anxious, while anxiety is specifically that feeling of fear, dread and apprehension we mentioned. You may never even know what’s causing your anxiety, or, in some cases, it can manifest on its own, without any real “trigger” or cause. Stress is often caused by external influences, while anxiety is an internal response. That’s part of what makes anxiety intrinsically different than stress, and also what makes it so difficult to manage.