Inside your brain, you possess an elaborate emotional guidance system. Every emotion you experience is a message from this system that contains valuable information about your surroundings or your own internal state. When the emotion is fear or anxiety, the message you are receiving is a warning that something potentially harmful exists, either in your immediate environment or in the future. To help you respond to this perceived threat, the anxiety response floods your brain with chemicals that increase your heart rate and breathing, preparing your body to escape or fight. The experience can range from mildly uncomfortable to severely distressing.
Anxiety is often triggered by something in the external world, such as having to perform in front of a group, getting laid off from a job, being near animals, or being in the dark, in a crowd or in an enclosed or high place. Anxiety can also be triggered by something internal, like a traumatic memory, body discomfort, or thoughts about financial stress. And occasionally, anxiety can seem to come out of the blue with no clearly identifiable trigger. When anxiety appears random, it can be a disorienting experience.
Whether we like it or not, anxiety is a part of life for everyone. When the emotional guidance system is functioning well, the anxiety response promotes healthy living. Not only does it warn against harm, but mild anxiety can motivate you to meet a work deadline, perform well in school, or attend to important medical problems. But, when the emotional guidance system is not working properly, the anxiety response can misfire, causing anxiety that is either too frequent or disproportionately high for the circumstances.
When anxiety begins to interfere with daily life, therapy can be very helpful.