Anxiety is unpleasant. It nags at us, gets in the way, and can disrupt life to varying degrees. Understanding anxiety can be helpful in facing it. Once you know what you’re dealing with, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Anxiety can take different forms, but at it’s core, it’s a result of your brain sending out a false alarm that causes worry, nervousness, obsessions, or panic.
The Evolution of Anxiety
Early humans developed anxiety as a survival mechanism to keep them alive. The harsh conditions required them to sense dangerous situations quickly. Anxiety was a very helpful tool in this regard, and over the years, it became hardwired into our brains. Some of our anxiety is accurate. There are situations that we should absolutely be anxious about-a reckless driver next to you, a tornado headed for your house, a snarling dog running toward you. We should feel anxiety in these situations, and our flight or fight response will be triggered to keep us alive. We can thank our ancestors for that.
The Lie of Anxiety
The situations mentioned above warrant anxiety. However, a lot of the time, we experience anxiety when it’s not necessary. Our brain tells us something is dangerous when that’s not the case. We have the same anxiety reaction that we have in a truly dangerous situation, and so we struggle to see we’re actually not in any danger. In their book, CBT for Anxiety, authors Kimberly J. Morrow and Elizabeth DuPont Spencer liken anxiety to a smoke alarm. They explain it goes off when there’s a fire in the home (a truly dangerous situation), but it also goes off when you burn the pizza (not so dangerous).
The Relationship between Anxiety and Avoidance
What do we do when we feel anxious? We tend to avoid the thing that’s making us feel that way. Although avoidance feels good in the moment, we are actually training our brains to fear that situation even more. Every time we avoid, we reinforce the idea that the situation we were in was in fact dangerous. Our anxiety grows, and we get caught in the cycle of avoid, strengthen the belief that the situation was dangerous, increase anxiety, avoid, and so on. The good news? Anxiety is quite treatable! The first step is understanding the distinction between accurate anxiety and the false alarm.
If you are struggling with anxiety and want to work through it in counseling, I’d love to chat with you. Please give our office a call, and we can discuss further.