Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | October 8, 2010

The Gift of Anxiety

Anxiety is a gift.  And, when I say that to new clients, they look like they want to get up and leave.  I don’t blame them, after all, the experience of anxiety can be horrible–uncomfortable, scary (terrifying even), and overwhelming!  Why would I ever say such a thing?

Well, if you read yesterday in Close Cousins: Anxiety Worry & Fear, I defined anxiety as the anticipation of danger that hasn’t happened just yet.  In other words, anxiety is our bodies warning system for danger. Our body prepares us to fight, run away from, or freeze at the presence of danger.  If we did not have this system, we would never run away from an oncoming bus or stay calm in the face of an angry, aggressive co-worker.

The problem, however, is that our body does not know the difference between real danger and false alarms–it reacts the same either way.  Think of your body as a car with an alarm on it–let’s say the owner of the car sets the alarm and walks away.  He realizes he forgot something out of the car, goes back for it, and opens the car without shutting off the alarm. Guess what happens? The alarm goes off!  Why?  because the car does not know the difference between a car thief and the owner forgetting to shut off the alarm.  If triggered, the car alarm goes off, no matter what the source of the trigger.

The same is true for us–if our bodies get the message “there’s DANGER,” it reacts to prepare us to deal with that danger.  It doesn’t distinguish between us standing in the way of an oncoming bus or sitting at home on our couch watching TV.

So the problem then, is not anxiety in and of itself–that system protects us.  The problem is if your system is out of balance–in other words,  you are getting triggered by “false alarms.”  

You may feel like your anxiety is out of control and it has taken over your life.  You may have no idea what’s triggering your anxiety.  Or, perhaps you do know, but feel helpless to do anything about it.   You are not alone, that’s the experience of millions of people!  The good news, though, is that there is help available for getting anxiety under control.  I’ll address what that help might look like in future posts.

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

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