Anxiety can be completely debilitating to an individual. The term anxiety covers a broad spectrum of feelings from unease or nervousness to chronic worrying and a sense of fear or panic attacks. Anxiety is usually attached to apprehensive anticipation of a future event or events. It may be related to one type of event, fears about the future development of a current situation or circumstance or it may present as Generalised Anxiety Disorder where the sufferer develops anxiety that does not appear to be attached to anything specific, or even feels as though everything produces anxiety.
Whereas stress may come and go, anxiety may persist, leaving an individual in a seemingly permanent state of anxiety.
Anxiety is a physiological defence mechanism designed to protect our early ancestors from death or danger generated by the primitive, emotional part of the brain, the limbic system that operates at an instinctual level, below the level of language. It evolved to protect cavemen from attack by putting them into a state of fight or flight to ward off or to escape from Sabre tooth tigers or other such threats to survival. Once the threat is registered by the brain, our systems make us hyper alert by firing adrenaline and increased oxygen into our systems to enable us to react at a faster rate than normal whether that be to fight or run away from danger. In these original instances experienced by our ancestors, the threat would soon pass and the extra energy produced by the body for the fight or flight mechanism would have been discharged by which ever action we instinctively took.
in todays world however we trigger this reaction for situations that do not demand such a dramatic fight or flight response and this extra energy is not subsequently discharged, leading to to feelings of unease, the palpitations, the panicky feelings that often go hand in hand with anxiety.
If this response is triggered regularly, the levels of the stress hormones build up and an individual can become caught in what is known as the adrenaline loop where the more anxious a person feels, the more they worry or become anxious about their anxiety levels and become trapped in vicious cycle of ever increasing levels of adrenaline and cortisol.