Anxiety is a form of negative raised arousal. For sufferers anxiety triggers happen in many everyday situations which are in no way life threatening. The alarm system and negative raised arousal work together. The alarm system requires negative arousal to keep working, or it just switches off again. Anxiety is one form of negative arousal, along with other emotions such as pain, fear or extreme sadness.
So in order to understand anxiety it is important to be fully aware of the link between negative arousal and the alarm system. Apart from those very real life and death situations in which the survival instinct triggers the fight or flight response, there are two sorts of things in everyday life which trigger the alarm system and create negative raised arousal or anxiety.
The first of these is:
Anything it hasn't come across before or which is not as expected based on previous experience of it.
If it hasn't come across it before it has no way of knowing for certain that it's safe. Therefore it goes on alert just in case.
Likewise different from what it expects, based on previous experience of it, is treated as dangerous until proven otherwise.
As an example, picture yourself sitting at home watching TV. There's a bowl of fruit close by and, while engrossed in your programme, you reach out and pick up an apple. You then proceed to eat the apple while concentrating on the TV.
I'll bet that for the most part you aren't consciously aware of how that particular apple tastes or feels in your mouth. You have eaten many such apples in the past and from the moment your brain saw it, it knew how it would feel in your mouth, how it would taste etc. In the past eating such apples has been a positive experience for you (otherwise you probably wouldn't be choosing to eat this one now) so your survival instinct lets it by without comment.
Your attention is on the TV. You may even eat the entire apple without really being aware you've eaten it.
However, if, by some misfortune, that apple has a large bruise which you hadn't noticed to begin with, as you get a bruised mouthful your survival instinct finds something it wasn't expecting. It yells out
and instantly snatches your awareness from the TV to what's in your mouth. You find yourself spitting out what was there and staring at it. As this happened your instinct started to raise your arousal level in preparation for action just as it does with the fight or flight response.
The second type of anxiety trigger is
Anything which has caused us to feel negative emotion previously
i.e anything to which you have responded with raised negative arousal in the past, anything which has caused you to feel pain, fear, extreme sadness etc. The rationale is that if this sort of thing has caused you such feelings in the past then it most definitely must be regarded by the alarm system as dangerous.
Most anxiety triggers fall into this second category.
Longer lasting or more severe anxiety symptoms can develop from our reactions to these everyday warnings.
Now that you understand the mechanics of anxiety we will look at the more common physiological symptoms and attempt to explain their development in terms of the six factors we have learnt as causing them.
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