A near miss while driving, a thud on the front door after dark or waking at 2 am to the sound of a telephone are external factors capable of inducing fear or anxiety. Our pulse quickens and our muscles tense, even after the crisis is averted.
For a long time, emotions were considered to be unique to human beings, and were studied mainly from a philosophical perspective. (1) Fear and anxiety are evolutionary benefits which help us determine a threat, and plan for the future.
Anxiety and fear are adaptive behaviors. Sensory nerves perceive a danger and send a signal to the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus alerts the pituitary gland — which releases a chemical into the bloodstream — and simultaneously transmits a nerve signal down the spinal cord.(2)
The chemicals released by the pituitary gland combined with the nerve signals activate the adrenal glands, secreting adrenaline and energizing the body to react.(2) This is called the fight or flight response.
When a person experiences an unrelenting, repeated fight or flight response out of proportion to, or in the absence of, an external threat, he or she may have an anxiety disorder.
1) The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors.March 14, 2016.
2) How Cells Communicate During Fight or Flight. utah.edu. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
3) Anxiety. BBRFoundation.org. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
4) Anxiety Disorders. NIH.gov. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
5) Reduce Anxiety and Depression by Countering Automatic Self Talk. Cognitive Healing.com. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
6) Gender Differences in Anxiety Disorders: Prevalence, Course of Illness, Comorbidity and Burden of Illness. NIH.gov. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
7) Spouse or Partner. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved March 15, 2016.