Understanding that Anxiety is a normal healthy response to threat or danger and understanding how it works is one of the best ways to begin to master it. It becomes a problem when the mechanism can't be switched off and it attacks the body's normal functions leaving you depleted, It was developed in Stone Age times to help our ancestors survive physical dangers of attack, starvation, severe weather and the system cannot be updated. Digital stressors play havoc with the mechanism, but with some understanding you can learn to modify and even update some of the effects.
Here is how it works: Data input is through the five senses and the memory. Using its vast database, the amydgala decides instantly on which route
to take; the fight, flight or freeze response which activates the body to full alert or to remain in the calm state (rest/digest). Once the trigger is fired
there is no going back.
Messages are transmitted immediately along two circuits;
1. The spinal cord using nerves electrical impulses connects, via the pituitary gland
2. The hormone system; a series of chemical programs command various internal body parts.
The Amygdala command passes along the Hormone circuitry to the Adrenal Glands. Here the stress hormones fire off commands to the main internal organs. Blood and oxygen are diverted from the nonessential organs that manage digestion, procreation and sleep while all energy is directed to the
life or death function of fuelling the muscles to fight preditors, chase food or escape from danger.
The sequence: Adrenaline fires to heart and lungs to make them work harder to transport blood and oxygen to muscles. Blood is diverted away from
the intestines, kidneys, liver, stomach and genitals. Eating, sleeping or having sex become low priorities if your life is in danger. BUT disruption to
your digestion, sleep and immune system have a longterm bad effect on health and can tip the body into exhaustion and depletion.
That can allow you to escape from a threat with superhuman speed and energy at a cost! Digestion, immune, rest and growth functions are robbed. It takes some time for the body to return to the default position of Rest/Digest. When the threat is real and infrequent then the cost is worthwhile and the body recovers.
But if the trigger is being hit continually the whole nervous system is compromised and depleted.
What options are there?
1. To understand what happens in the body when the Anxiety trigger fires.
2. Calm and understand the response a fearful/panic response merely activates a further trigger.
3. Learn to ‘float’ with anxiety and calm or retrain the Amygdala
4. Actively promote the Rest/Digest function
5. Build buffers to minimise the impact of anxiety
Further understanding: Where there is Anxiety there is often a Trauma and avoidance of an emotion. It might be a family trauma or an incident that represented danger to you. Seek professional help to overcome this restricting and overpowering condition.
Illustrations by James Cobb