Causes of Anxiety: Does Anxiety Have Any Purpose?
Credit to Inner Health Studio
The causes of anxiety attacks relate to the adaptive and protective functions of anxiety. Let’s look at why people become anxious and what to do about it.
If, for a moment, we consider anxiety to be like fear (see this page more information on how fear and anxiety differ) anxiety is like an “alerting signal” for the body. “As an alerting signal, anxiety can be considered basically the same emotion as fear. Anxiety warns of an external or internal threat; it has lifesaving qualities.” (Kaplan and Sadock, pg. 189).
Okay, so fear that warns of possible danger (like bodily harm, social consequences, punishment, or any other sort of threat) can be helpful because it keeps us from doing things that will have undesirable consequences or harm us in some way. That’s a good thing. Without any fear, we may unknowingly act in ways that have undesirable consequences.
Definition of Stress: What is the Stress Response?
What is stress?
Let’s consider the physiological definition of stress to understand what it means when a person says, “I’m feeling stressed.” In physiology, stress is anything that causes the body to respond by releasing stress hormones.
The definition of stress, then, is: an event that causes by the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. The “stress response” is what happens when the body reacts to stressors (noxious stimuli).
Over time, the mental, behavioral, and physical symptoms of the stress response can wear us down. How does a normal, natural function (the fight-or-flight response) become problematic?
First, let’s examine more closely how and why the fight-or-flight response occurs.
Our bodies come equipped with automatic responses to our environments that allow the body to function optimally. For example, the body maintains its temperature within a narrow range, even if the environmental temperature varies greatly. Another example of the amazing way the body responds automatically to the environment is the fight-or-flight response.
The definition of stress, in physiological terms, is a harmful (or potentially harmful) stimulus. Vander, Sherman, and Luciano (2001) state that “these stimuli comprise an immense number of situations, including physical trauma, prolonged exposure to cold, prolonged heavy exercise, infection, shock, decreased oxygen supply, sleep deprivation, pain, fright, and other emotional stresses.”
Whether the stress is physical or emotional, the response is the same. The adrenal cortex increases secretion of the hormone Cortisol, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system is increased, resulting in increased epinephrine secretion from the adrenal medulla. Other hormones are also released during stress, and insulin production is usually decreased.The response of the sympathetic nervous system is commonly called the “fight-or-flight” response because the physical affects allow us to physically fight or flee.
“…the major effects of increased sympathetic activity, including secretion of epinephrine, almost constitutes a guide to how to meet emergencies in which physical activity may be required and bodily damage may occur.” (Vander, Sherman, and Luciano, 2001, pg 730). In other words, the fight-or-flight response helps the body perform physical activity and respond to injury.
The actions of the sympathetic nervous system include (adapted from Vander, Sherman, and Luciano, 2001):
– the liver and muscles break down glycogen into glucose to provide a quick source of glucose for energy
– increased fat breakdown to provide glycerol (to make glucose), and fatty acids, results in increased concentration of fats in the blood to be used for energy
– decreased muscle fatigue
– higher heart rate and more forceful heart contraction resulting in increased cardiac output (more blood flow)
– more blood flow to the muscles and less blood flow to the organs
– greater ability of blood to clot
– breathing becomes faster
These actions result in increased physical strength, energy, and readiness for intense physical activity. Muscles do not tire as easily. Blood flows to the muscles to allow them to work. Fat is broken down for energy. The body is also prepared for injury because the blood can clot more easily — this means that if a cut occurs, the blood quickly clots to stop bleeding. Find out more about the purpose of stress and anxiety. This sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want their body ready to perform at it’s strongest and able to repair itself if injured?
Stress Management Exercises.
How to Cope with Stress using Effective Stress Management Exercises.
- Healthy Coping With Stress. When finding strategies for coping with stress and anxiety, it is important to remember that various coping mechanisms, including relaxation, can be helpful when used correctly. BUT, over-using any one method for coping with stress can become harmful over time. Learn to build coping skills that stand the test of time.
- Unhealthy coping methods can lead to problems such as addiction, but these patterns can be overcome. Support such as a rehab center can help. The River Source continues to deliver as the nation’s premier Arizona Drug Rehab Center.
- Decrease stress at its source. If relationships are causing stress, working on setting boundaries or on becoming more assertive may be helpful. If too many demands on your time are causes of stress for you, it may be beneficial to work on setting priorities and limits, and cut back on things that you’re able to let go for the time being. Some of the first stress management exercises you may want to try involve dealing directly with the sources of your stress.
- Physical activity. Yes, exercise. The reason? Physical activity helps to use up the excess energy produced by the stress response. In fight-or-flight mode, the body is ready for intense physical activity. By exercising, the stress response runs its course, and the body returns to a physiological normal.
- Creativity. Hobbies and creative outlets can be excellent stress relievers. Try out the creative expression relaxation download to experience creativity as an example of one of the many possible creative stress management exercises you can use.
- Take care of yourself. Treating yourself well is a good way to cope with stress. If you have good physical and emotional reserves, you are better prepared to handle stress that comes your way. Do things you enjoy, treat yourself, talk kindly to yourself…. in other words, treat yourself like a friend.
- Time management. Managing your time effectively can significantly decrease stress. Avoid the trap of over-scheduling by prioritizing tasks and putting free time into your schedule.
- Decrease procrastination. Procrastination can add to your stress – when things are put off, you are always working under pressure, which is stressful! Using a schedule and rewarding yourself are ways to prevent procrastination.
- Sleep. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Even a few hours of missed sleep affects your memory and concentration significantly.
- Reward yourself. Plan to treat yourself after completing a task. Rewards do not have to be extravagant. A reward can be a simple, small treat like watching a movie, taking a warm bath, playing a game, or listening to music.