What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is really just a form of stress. It can be experienced in many different ways — physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety hugely relates to worrying about what might happen — worrying about things going wrong or feeling like you’re in some kind of danger.
Anxiety is a natural human reaction, and it serves an important biological function: It’s an alarm system that’s activated whenever we perceive danger or a proposed threat. When the body and mind react, we can feel physical sensations, like dizziness, a heightened heartbeat, labored breathing, and sweaty or shaky hands and feet. These sensations — called the fight/flight response — are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that prepare the body to make a quick getaway or “flight” from danger.
The fight/flight response happens instantaneously. But it usually takes a few seconds longer for the thinking part of the brain to process the situation and evaluate whether the threat is real, and if so, how to handle it. When the cortex sends the all-clear signal, the fight/flight response is deactivated and the nervous system starts to calm down.
Here is a quick example: Ella was a worrier. Every morning, she worried that she wouldn’t make it to school on time, even though she hasn’t been late once all year. And every afternoon, she worried that she wouldn’t get her favorite spot next to her friend, or that she might have a pop quiz in science class and wouldn’t be prepared. At night, she worried about getting her homework done and whether her clothes would look right at school the next day.Ella’s parents thought this behavior was a typical part of growing up. But when their daughter’s teacher said that Ella’s anxiety was starting to affect her grades in school and relationships with classmates, they decided it was time to talk to a doctor about finding ways to help Ella deal with her worries.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. These feelings can range from a mild sense of uneasiness to full-blown panic attacks, depending on the person and the situation.
It’s natural for unfamiliar or challenging situations to prompt feelings of anxiety or nervousness in people of all ages. You may feel it when you have a big presentation at school, for example, or when life gets overly hectic like with exams or sports.
Kids might feel it, too, in similar situations — when facing an important test or switching schools, for example. These experiences can trigger normal anxiety because they cause us to focus on the “what if’s”: What if I mess up? What if things don’t go as I planned?
Some amount of anxiety is normal and can even be motivating. It helps us stay alert, focused, and ready to do our best. But anxiety that’s too strong or happens a lot can become overwhelming. It can interfere with someone’s ability to get things done and, in severe cases, can start taking over the good and enjoyable parts of life.
For more great articles and tips, please subscribe to receive our latest articles or join our new Facebook group. As next week we will explore anxiety disorders, their causes and signs and symptoms.