Everything that’s alive must process sensory input from all its various body parts to behave safely. We’re also motivated to seek reward so our body can regenerate and propagate. Typically, you’ll exist in a neutral zone. You’ll also sense discomfort prior to it becoming more intense. This is also true for comfort and pleasure.
The environment provides our nervous system’s sensors with information that’s then analyzed. All these senses continually compete. Nothing inherently indicates safety vs. threat. Your nervous system merely interprets the information, then catalogs it so we can navigate through the world. Our brain is what allows us to “feel” by interpreting signals and sensations while also mobilizing our defenses or telling us to relax.
How Your Body Reacts to Threats
As a response to our environment, there’s a defensive response to every threat. This is done to help us evolve and thrive. Until a certain threshold is reached, we don’t feel the effects of this process which is fight or flight/freeze or faint.
When threatened hormones (e.g. histamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, endorphins) get secreted so your chance of survival increases. Your automatic nervous system modulates this resulting in an increased heart rate and breathing; dilation of your muscles’ blood vessels; and constricting the blood flow to your bladder, bowels, and brain.
Your immune response is also stimulated here. Inflammatory cytokines occur. This is a short-term cellular reaction. However, if it’s sustained, it can cause chronic mental and physical diseases as your body is attacked by its own cells.
When these inflammatory cells and stress chemicals occur for a prolonged period they result in a strong, unpleasant feeling which is meant to compel us to take any action that’d resolve the threat. This is something all animals experience. The difference is that humans have language and consciousness so we’re able to label this state and have called it “anxiety.” This is such a deep, uncomfortable feeling that we’re forced to act so homeostasis (bringing the body back into balance) can occur.
Anxiety is the cumulative sensation the threat causes. As such, it’s a symptom. It isn’t the cause of the threat, nor is it a diagnosis, disorder, or disease. Therefore, a psychiatrist can’t treat it by addressing it as the primary issue.
This is the universal problem of being human. Neuroscientific research has recently that both physical threats and unpleasant thoughts are processed in a similar area of the brain and with the same chemical response. Unfortunately, none of us can escape our thoughts. Instead, our bodies are faced with a continual neuro/chemical/inflammatory assault. This can then be translated into 30+ symptoms that are both physical and mental in nature.
People who live under chronic stress don’t only develop serious diseases; studies also show that they don’t live long lives either. This is because these unconscious survival mechanisms are much more powerful than your conscious brain. As such, it’s impossible to use logical interventions to manage and control these mechanisms. It should also be noted here that without these unconscious survival mechanisms you wouldn’t be able to survive.
Now that we take another look at pain, we can see that it’s a warning sign for danger. The various receptors throughout our body can give us many uncomfortable sensations. Regardless of what’s caused the threatening input to occur (mental or physical), your body becomes alert and this results in anxiety.
Anxiety is pain which is necessary in life. Understanding its nature and role helps you to assimilate and thrive. For help with this contact the Advantage Mental Health Center in Clearwater, FL.
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