When faced with potentially harmful or worrying triggers, feelings of anxiety are not only normal but necessary for survival.
Ever since the earliest days of humanity, the approach of predators and incoming danger has set off alarms in the body and allowed an individual to take evasive action. These alarms become noticeable in the form of a raised heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity to surroundings.
A rush of adrenaline in response to danger causes these reactions. This adrenaline boost is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It prepares humans to physically confront or flee any threats to safety.
For most modern individuals, running from larger animals and imminent danger is a less pressing concern. Anxieties now revolve around work, money, family life, health, and other crucial issues that demand a person’s attention without necessarily requiring the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction.
That nervous feeling before an important life event or during a difficult situation is a natural echo of the original ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. It can still be essential to survival – anxiety about being hit by a car when crossing the street, for example, means that a person will instinctively look both ways to avoid danger.
The duration or severity of an anxious feeling can sometimes be out of proportion to the original trigger, or stressor. Physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and nausea, may also become evident. These responses move beyond anxiety into an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders occur when a reaction is out of proportion to what might normally be expected in a situation. The APA describes a person with anxiety disorder as “having recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.