First of all, before we start to describe what the symptoms of anxiety are, let’s first establish what anxiety is and its purpose. Anxiety is a survival mechanism. It exists to remove any perceived danger from our environment by either fighting it or running away from it.
A few thousand years ago, when man was a hunter-gatherer searching for food in the great outdoors, anxiety played a very important role in preventing our ancestor from becoming some animal’s next meal. If and when confronted by some ferocious beast, anxiety would come into play and give our great, great, great etc. grandparent the wherewithal to either stand and fight the threat or to run away to some safe haven.
In order for this fight or flight mechanism to be effective, certain physiological and psychological changes are temporarily made. These are as follows:
1. Body hair stands on end to give an overall appearance of being bigger.
2. Sweating starts to occur in the hands and feet to enable a better grip whilst running and/or climbing.
3. Adrenalin is released into the bloodstream to give an all-important boost of energy.
4. The body’s normal functions of digestion and cell repair are put on hold and the resources are re-directed to the muscles to enhance strength.
5. Under extreme conditions, the body will excrete in order to reduce weight.
6. Normal breathing is replaced by much shallower breathing and the heart rate increases.
7. Both sight and hearing are heightened.
8. Psychologically, there will be a feeling of discomfort and agitation. This will increase as necessary in order to initialise some sort of action.
So, looking at the above example of our stone-age hunter, we can clearly see that anxiety was indeed a very necessary part of their day-to-day life and no doubt it was instrumental in saving quite a few lives at that stage in our evolution.
But, how on earth can such a mechanism be useful to us in our current society? In certain situations, such as when the job that you’re working on is quickly running out of time, anxiety will help you to focus better by increasing your sight and hearing perceptions and the adrenalin will give you more energy to complete the task. I seriously doubt, though, that such a low level of anxiety would cause involuntary excretion.
However, there are other situations where anxiety rears its head and it isn’t appropriate. Imagine that you’re late for work and that you’re stuck in traffic. No matter how anxious you feel the traffic won’t flow any quicker and as for running away from or fighting the perceived threat that would be impossible.
It’s situations similar to the latter that can bring about anxiety disorders in certain individuals. I know, I used to suffer from an anxiety disorder along with panic disorder and agoraphobia for many years. Until, after many years of searching, I found the cure.