Everyone is familiar with anxiety.
It may pop up as a feeling of unexplained apprehension, or a flood of constant worrying thoughts, a sudden burst of panic, or even an intense dread or fear. These feelings are all to situations, things and people perceived as overwhelming, unsafe or threatening. In all its manifestations, it is unpleasant and it is quite natural to want to avoid or eliminate these feelings.
But before we move on to discussing anxiety as a disorder, lets understand the evolutionary function of this seemingly out of control beast.
The essential evolutionary function of an anxiety response is to prepare an individual to deal effectively with danger and threat. That is why it exists at all.
Take a look at a few symptoms and the function they may serve:
The feeling of restlessness and increased heart rate may keep us physically prepared for action.
Our interpretation of ambiguous information as threatening may actually be aimed at reducing the probability of missing any threats around us.
Our mind racing with multiple thoughts of all that which can happen may actually keep us prepared for all possibilities and scenarios.
The lack of sleep will allow us to be constantly alert.
It propels us, makes us strive, challenges us and pushes our limits. Toss away anxiety and you may lose out a great deal of your motivation, persistence, excitement and caution.
So ideally if anxiety is experienced in the right manner, for the right reasons and for the right duration – it is only natural!
But how do we recognize the transformation of this natural experience of anxiety into a disorder?
There are a few things to consider. Anxiety reactions manifest in three basic forms:
As an emotion: The fear, the apprehension, the worry, and the despair.
As a thought: Of an impending doom, of things going wrong, of death, of injury.
As a physical response: To avoid, to evade, to check, to run, to become immobile, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing etc.
In an anxiety disorder, these three basic forms of anxiety may be experienced as difficulties in any of the four below mentioned domains.
Intensity – Is the experience of anxiety exaggerated and far too intense than what may be warranted in a situation? Does the individual find it difficult to contain and manage the anxiety? Is the individual finding it difficult to cope with the intensity of the signs and symptoms?
Frequency – Are the signs of anxiety experienced too frequently by the individual? Is the individual repeatedly reacting to the same stressor/threat without developing newer ways to cope or deal with it?
Pervasiveness – Are the signs or symptoms of anxiety experienced at most times across all situations? Does it seem to be pervading across all aspects of an individual's life?
Dysfunction – Is the experience of anxiety impacting the individual's functioning in their personal, professional or social life? Does the individual have to make too many changes to accommodate and cope with the experience of anxiety? Is it affecting others around the individual?
If your answer is affirmative to any of these questions, your experience of anxiety may not be serving the evolutionary purpose it is essentially meant for. But before you go ahead and diagnose yourself, I encourage you to talk to a mental health professional about your concern.