Understanding Anxiety

Table of Contents

Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

Anxiety is a normal and natural response to stress or danger. It is our body’s way of preparing us to deal with a potential threat. When we encounter a situation that we perceive as dangerous, our body and brain respond in a way that is designed to protect us. The response is called “fight-flight-freeze” because it can manifest in three different ways:  However, when anxiety becomes chronic or excessive, it can interfere with daily life and become a mental health disorder. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

Fight Response

Our body prepares for a physical confrontation with the perceived threat. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and adrenaline surges through our body. We may feel angry, aggressive, or confrontational. This response is designed to help us defend ourselves and is often associated with a “fighting spirit.”

Flight Response

Our body prepares for escape or avoidance of the perceived threat. Our heart rate increases, we start to sweat, and our breathing becomes rapid. We may feel anxious, scared, or overwhelmed. This response is designed to help us quickly and safely remove ourselves from danger.

Freeze Response

Our body prepares to remain still and avoid detection by the perceived threat. Our heart rate and breathing slow down, and our muscles tense up. We may feel paralyzed or unable to move. This response is designed to help us avoid detection by predators, and is often associated with “playing dead.”

While the fight-flight-freeze response can be helpful in certain dangerous situations, it can also be maladaptive in modern times. Here are some examples:

  • In public speaking, the physical symptoms of the response (e.g. increased heart rate and sweating) can be misinterpreted as a sign of incompetence or unpreparedness, leading to more anxiety and poorer performance.
  • When we encounter conflict with others, the fight-flight-freeze response can sometimes cause us to act impulsively or say things we don’t mean. Alternatively, the freeze response may cause us to withdraw or shut down, preventing us from effectively resolving the conflict.
  • In people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the fight-flight-freeze response can be constantly activated, even in the absence of an actual threat. This can lead to chronic feelings of anxiety and physiological symptoms like muscle tension, fatigue, and insomnia.

Anxiety Disorders

However, when anxiety becomes chronic or excessive, it can interfere with daily life and become a mental health disorder. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday events and activities.

  2. Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is characterized by sudden and unexpected panic attacks, which can cause intense feelings of fear and physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, and difficulty breathing.

  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) aimed at reducing anxiety or preventing harm.
  4. Social Anxiety Disorder: Social anxiety disorder is characterized by fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment or judgment.

  5. Specific Phobias: Specific phobias are characterized by intense fear and avoidance of a particular object or situation.

As “A Hopeful Space” is growing, you will see more information being added on the above anxiety disorders.

Which symptoms can you expect?

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, and there is no “right” way to feel anxious. However, there are some common reactions that many people experience when feeling anxious. These can include:

Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing.

Racing Thoughts

Anxiety can cause racing thoughts and a sense of being overwhelmed or out of control.

Avoidance

You may avoid situations or activities that trigger anxiety, which can limit your daily life.

Irritability

Anxiety can cause feelings of irritability and frustration.

Difficulty Sleeping

Anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, which can contribute to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion.

Self Doubt

Anxiety can cause feelings of self-doubt and a sense of being unable to cope with everyday life.

Which are some of the causes?

Anxiety can have many different causes, and it often results from a combination of factors. Some of the most common causes of anxiety include:

  • Trauma is a significant trigger for anxiety, as it can result in a person feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Traumatic experiences can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence. These experiences can create lasting effects on a person’s mental and emotional health, leading to anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions.
  • Environmental factors can also contribute to the development of anxiety. Stressful life events, such as job loss, financial difficulties, or relationship problems, can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety. When people are faced with such challenges, they may experience a sense of uncertainty and loss of control, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.
  • Certain medical conditions can also cause symptoms of anxiety. For example, thyroid disorders, heart disease, or chronic pain can affect a person’s physical health, leading to symptoms of anxiety. Additionally, people who suffer from chronic pain may also experience anxiety due to the constant physical discomfort and disruption to their daily activities.
  • Substance abuse can also contribute to anxiety disorders. Using drugs or alcohol can increase the risk of developing anxiety or exacerbate existing anxiety symptoms. Substance abuse can also lead to problems in personal and professional relationships, financial difficulties, and legal problems, which can all contribute to feelings of anxiety.

 

It’s important to note that while these factors can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety, not everyone who experiences trauma, stressful life events, medical conditions, or substance abuse will develop anxiety. The development of anxiety is complex, and it often involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, seeking support from a mental health professional can be helpful in identifying the underlying causes and developing a treatment plan.

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