Anxiety is a word we use to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something. Although we usually find it unpleasant, anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened.
We all know what it’s like to feel anxious from time to time. It’s common to feel tense, nervous and perhaps fearful at the thought of a stressful event or decision you’re facing – especially if it could have a big impact on your life. For example:
In situations like these it’s understandable to have worries about how you will perform, or what the outcome will be. For a short time you might even find it hard to sleep, eat or concentrate. Then usually, after a short while or when the situation has passed, the feelings of worry stop.
Like all other animals, human beings have evolved ways to help us protect ourselves from dangerous, life-threatening situations. When you feel under threat your body releases hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol, which help physically prepare you to either fight the danger or run away from it. These hormones can:
Then when you feel the danger has passed, your body releases other hormones to help your muscles relax, which may cause you to shake.
This is commonly called the ‘fight or flight’ response – it’s something that happens automatically in our bodies, and we have no control over it. In modern society we don’t usually face situations where we need to physically fight or flee from danger, but our biological response to feeling threatened is still the same.
Because anxiety is a normal human experience, it's sometimes hard to know when it's becoming a problem for you – but if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, it can be overwhelming.
If anxiety is affecting your ability to live your life the way you’d like to, it's worth thinking about ways to help yourself, and what kind of treatments are available.