You mistakenly kept your hand over a burning stove, in no time, your brain sent a signal to pull back your hand. Another case, you sense anxious while preparing for an exam or an interview. All these responses are good for healthy and happy life, right? We can label it as ‘early warning system.’ The signal that brain sent was important otherwise your hand would have been burnt. The anxious feeling helped you to work hard.
Hold on for a moment, and think, what if your brain keeps on sending ‘early warning signals’ for no reason. Moreover, not for a moment or for once but again and again for a really long time. In this case, will you be happy and healthy? Of course not. A little anxiety is good but high severity and recurrence of it for no reason can result in a mental disorder i.e. anxiety disorder.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
We have emotions such as fear, happiness, nervousness. Likewise, anxiety is also a kind of emotion or response to a future threat. The key to understanding anxiety lies in the limbic system of the brain. Before we enter into this medical explanation, it is important to be familiar with some terms.
- Limbic system: It is a set of brain parts like hippocampus, hypothalamus, amygdala. These are responsible for things like motivation, emotion, memory.
- Amygdala: It is one of two almond-shaped groups of nuclei which is a part of limbic system.
- Hypothalamus: It is a portion of the brain that contains a number of small nuclei. In our case is responsible for hormone release.
- Epinephrine: It is that hormone which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response.
During an anxious emotion, when you feel a threat to some future events, limbic system sends a signal to amygdala through the hypothalamus. This results in the release of a hormone, epinephrine. This hormone then goes to different body parts, mixes up with other chemicals which result in a bunch of activities such as elevated energy level, increased heart beat. This process is healthy to cope with certain situations. However, if this occurs again and again for a long time, usual anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder.
In an anxiety disorder, a person reacts to a situation which general people often refer to be as over-reaction. They feel worried for no real reason. David Barlow defines anxiety as “a future-oriented mood state in which one is not ready or prepared to attempt to cope with upcoming negative events.” In this disorder, the unsure feeling occurs more often with more severity.
Anxiety v/s Fear:
Although fear has some connection with anxiety but they both are different on a general level. Here’s how:
Fear is something that we feel as a response to some real/perceived threat. However, anxiety is future-oriented emotion as a response to some upcoming threats. Furthermore, these future threats often turn out to be unreal and senseless to general people.
Moreover, fear is for a short time which mainly focuses on present event whereas anxiety is for a long time which mainly focuses on diffused future threats.
One thing to know about fear and anxiety is that anxiety traces its roots back to fear. Fear has two classifications, rational and irrational. Phobias are irrational fears and they come under anxiety disorder.
Although there are many types of anxiety disorders, they all are treatable with the help of proper medication and various therapies.