Anxiety is a cluster of bodily reactions to a cue, either internal or external. Anxiety involves the release of cortisol into the bloodstream, with accompanying symptoms of increased heart rate, tensed muscles, shortness of breath, and most of all, a sense of impending danger.
Anxiety is a warning that something is wrong and needs to be changed, challenged or avoided. It serves the all-important function of keeping us safe.
Anxiety is dangerous when it becomes chronic: high blood pressure, foggy or irrational thinking and reduced immune system functioning, among other things. Our bodies weren’t built for chronic anxiety. Witness the number of combat veterans returning with PTSD, a more extreme anxiety disorder.
I did a little research into the comments people have made to articles on my website. Thirty-six people made direct reference to anxiety in their comments. I’ll refer to three.
Maria wrote, “…This is my exact issue and I struggle with it daily: to stay or go. I have decided to have a separate place, one in city (condo) and one in country, as every evening my anxiety level rises when I hear the first crack of the beer can.”
Maria is reacting to an external cue, the sound of her husband opening a can of beer. This spells danger. She reduces her anxiety by going to a separate safe place. However, if his drinking proves chronic… She is already facing what she may have to do.
Joanna responds to an internal cue: “…my indiscretions while blacked out have forced me to lie to my love and my friends and hide secrets I’m terrified will come to light someday. I can’t sleep half the time and suffer from chronic anxiety. And yet, after my shift, that glass of wine is so inviting.” The impending danger causing her anxiety is that she will be exposed. She medicates with alcohol as a stopgap measure.
Syd speaks of her partner’s anxiety: “I was in a one-year relationship with a wonderful man…He calls himself a functional alcoholic…In addition to the drinking he has severe anxiety that he refuses to medicate or seek therapy for, which is probably a large part of why he’s drinking…”
The impending danger for this man is the unknown about the future. What would happen if he got out of the cycle of anxiety and drinking? Does he have past trauma he is afraid to face? Is he afraid to face a career decision (he is a new PhD) which might force him to move far from home? Contrary to what Syd believes, her partner does medicate his anxiety, but he does it with alcohol. And that has created its own set of problems.
In all 36 comments there was reference to a chronic situation involving actual or potential chronic anxiety. All 36 expressed fear about a relationship. (It is also true that all 36 involved alcohol as either the problem or attempted solution, but that’s another matter.)
Clearly, if you find yourself becoming anxious, do something to change yourself or your situation so the anxiety does not become chronic. Remember, the anxiety is there to alert you to change, to challenge, or to avoid something.