Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous.

There is a physical and mental response to a ‘stressor’ and this is a natural reaction that has, through evolution helped us to avoid and escape from sabre tooth tigers.  However, there are not many of those roaming around at the moment.


When you feel anxious for a chain of automatic event occur in our bodies, which prepares us for action.  This reaction is often referred to as ‘Flight or Fight’ and can be tracked back to our evolutionary past.  Imagine the primitive caveman threatened by a wild animal. You need to be prepared for vigorous action either run or fight . We still possess that survival reaction, although it is now triggered by more subtle situations, some of which are not even consciously aware of.  The reaction itself consists of the brain sending a messages to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream and into the large muscles of the arms and legs. The heart beats faster as it is working harder, we need more fuel so we breed more oxygen to cool the body down. Sweat and blood capillaries come to the surface. The body ideally need to be light as possible so they visit the toilet may be necessary. When this chain of events occur in a normal situation, for example we are pushing the trolley around the supermarket, it can be very frightening.  The important thing to remember is that the physical symptoms are natural and not harmful, they are merely appearing in an appropriate situation.


Anxiety is often referred to as if it is a single phenomenon, but it is not the case. There are three parts for the feelings of anxiety;

  1. Bodily sensations: These have already been mentioned and they include irregular breathing, churning stomach, sweating, trembling, racing heart and a need to visit to the toilet.
  2. Behaviour: This means the way to behave, that is what you do when you are faced the situation you fear.  Especially important is the behaviour of avoiding situations that is not going into the space, place or moment that you fear, or just getting out as quickly as possible.
  3. Thinking: this includes your ideas and beliefs, your mental comments, or your mental pictures about what might happen in the situation you fear.

Looking at the parts separately, and learning new skills in the area and all important ways to look at and deliver lasting anxiety management.


Tension and anxiety are common problems. About one tenth of the population every year will see their doctor because they feel tense and anxious. In the past doctors prescribed drugs for such problems, but over the last few years’ research has shown that there are more effective ways of treating anxiety.

New approaches involve teaching people how to cope with stress and anxiety, and these methods are similar to learning a new skill such as riding a bicycle or learning to play the piano.

These approaches can help a variety of people whose problems on the surface may take a different form, but who underneath suffer the same unpleasant feelings.

Examples include the housebound person who is terrified of going out; the person who is afraid of spiders, lifts, aeroplanes, or small spaces (these problems are called phobias); the person who experiences panic attacks; the person who obsessively checks things such as all the electrical appliance or compulsively washes their hands. Lastly, there may be people who feel generally anxious and who cannot tie their feelings down to anything specific.


It is important always to remember that Anxiety is a normal healthy reaction. It happens to everyone at times of danger or in worrying situations. When you are anxious your bodily system speeds up. In certain circumstances this can be a definite advantage. It means that you are ready for action and enables you to respond quickly if necessary. Moderate amounts of anxiety have always been understood to actually improve your performance, spurring you on to greater achievements.

However, when there is too much anxiety there is a change in performance and it is important to try and ride the peak.  The graph above demonstrates this point.

As the graph shows, when anxiety was low or high the people did not perform well, but when their anxiety was moderate they did best. Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with our performance or our everyday lives. This is when it becomes necessary to learn how to control it. Remember that anxiety is a normal healthy reaction. You cannot banish it completely from your life but you can learn to manage it.


There is usually a combination of causes. Two of the important ones are:

  1. The amount of stress you are under: You may have a single major problem, or more likely a number of small problems which when combined all add up to a perceived large amount of stress. Stress can be a measure, to some extent, of the amount of changes that have taking place in your life recently.  Being physically tired, run down and having many changes or traumas makes you feel more vulnerable to anxiety and one of the techniques to combat stress is to objectively look at your stress and try and establish what is ‘going on’.
  2. The kind of person you are: Some people have a more sensitive emotional nervous system. Their bodies arousal response might be triggered more quickly and take a longer time to calm down. Some people have learned from their parents in their early experiences how to get anxious and how to worry.  Many people are just hyper sensitive, some would say emotionally intuitive and this can cause them to be more alert to situations that perhaps require an emotional response.  This pressure can sometimes add to a sense of anxiety.


Why does anxiety stay with you? What keeps it going? Basically, there seem to be two reasons:

  1. Avoidance – Because of the way you behave to stress and anxiety. You may try to avoid the situations you fear.
  2. Beliefs – Because of beliefs you have about the situation and its consequences and your think and ruminate on the causes of anxiety.   

“Lift phobic people” never go in a lift because they may believe it will fall to the bottom of the lift shaft.  [Avoidance]

“Agoraphobics” never go out because they may believe they will collapse and die of a heart attack [Beliefs]; some people avoid meeting others because they believe that in a disagreement [Avoidance], they will lose their temper and hit people, some people obsessively check the locks on the doors and windows over and over before going to bed because they are certain that burglars will break in. [Beliefs]

These examples make clear two things:

  1. There may be an exaggerated, irrational belief (and the person may realise that it is just that) about what will happen in the feared situation.
  2. There is an avoidance of the feared situation, which, of course, allows the irrational belief to continue because it is never proved wrong.

So, we have established what Anxiety is, how it comes about and what is can be useful for.  What we will look at next is the process of Anxiety and how it can move from something quite innocuous to something more debilitating.  However, here are some points to keep in the back of your mind:

  • Anxiety is NORMAL
  • Anxiety is a healthy response to danger of threat
  • Anxiety can increase and reduce many times during the day and throughout our lives
  • Anxiety does not Kill you.
  • Anxiety does not make you go mad
  • Anxiety does not make you lose control.

Next time we will look at body/ mind connection and how thoughts play a big part in anxiety arousal.


Author Jonathan

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