Anxiety is one of the most basic human emotions. It can be extremely unpleasant, but it is not in the least dangerous.

Anxiety is a response to a danger or a threat. Often the response is referred to as fight or flight response. It is called this because an individual wants to either fight or flee in response to the danger. Therefore, the primary purpose of anxiety is to protect the person. Anxiety manifests itself through the mental system (an awareness that something is wrong), the physical system (actual symptoms such as dizziness and breathlessness are experienced), and the behavioral system (includes actual activities such as pacing and avoidance).

When a person perceives some kind of danger, the autonomic nervous system kicks in. Adrenalin and noradrenalin are released into the system. This can produce an increase in heart rate and increased strength in heartbeat. The blood is redirected from where it is not needed (perhaps away from the skin) to where it is needed (such as the larger muscles). There is also an increase in speed and depth of breathing. The feelings that are produced by this may include breathlessness, smothering feelings, tightness in the chest, and even dizziness (as there is decreased blood flowing to the head.) There is also an increase in sweating. Other physical symptoms can include a widening of the pupils (can contribute to blurred vision), decreased salivation (resulting in dry mouth), nausea, and a tensing of the muscles.

When it comes to behavioral responses, anxiety manifests itself in some of the following ways: aggression and a desire to escape the situation; if one can’t escape, then he/she may pace, tap foot, or snap at people; find it difficult to concentrate and experience trouble with memory.

Frequently people experiencing anxiety may fear that they are “going crazy”, that they are going to somehow “lose control”, that their nerves are going to collapse or breakdown, or that they are going to have a heart attack. Yet, rarely do any of these events take place. The fear may be real, but the event feared is usually not.

It is important to know that anxiety can be addressed with therapy which can provide amazing relief for the individual. If the anxiety is severe, medications may be needed initially until emotions are stabilized. While the medication may address the symptoms, therapy will help the individual to get to the root causes of the anxiety and acquire needed skills to learn to conquer it. Know that there is hope!