Anxiety: Definition, Symptoms & Science
Anxiety is defined in Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (2001) as "1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune" ... Anxiety symptoms fall along the spectrum of the "fear" responses: fight, flight or freeze. Any experiences from the following list are common - although, thank goodness, they rarely occur all at once.
Sprinkled throughout life in brief doses, anxiety supplies bursts of energy to get through challenging events and calls attention to iffy situations we might otherwise ignore. Anxiety may be laced with excitement, as before an important date or a performance. It is, of itself, positive in its contribution unless its severity or chronicity interferes with life.
Sympathetic (SNS) / Parasympathetic (PNS)
Brace yourself for a watered-down dose of important neuroscience! The brain and the body are inextricably interwoven via neurochemical interactions that create our sense of dis-ease and wellness. You can use this knowledge to help calm your system.
The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems are two major players in this interweave. When there is a threat or crisis, imagined or real, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) releases into the bloodstream "fight or flight" neurochemicals. If these neurochemicals are continually present due to chronic stress, they are potentially physiologically damaging. They block access to the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for releasing into the bloodstream the calming and stabilizing neurochemicals that further a sense of contentment and relaxation. Because the two systems are mutually exclusive - i.e., when one is "on", the other is pretty close to "off" - it is vital in our stressed lives to learn how to turn "on" the PNS.
Effort is involved because our fear-evoking SNS is constantly stimulated by scary news, fear-inducing advertisements and frightening TV shows or movies. Media take advantage of the fact that we are biologically 'wired' (from primitive times when humans were potential prey) to be vigilant for danger. Quieting down our reactivity to this constant barrage, along with the stressful events occurring in our own lives, is vital to creating calm in our own precious eco-systems. Visualizations, Activities and Body Cues contribute toward activating the PNS and thus soothing the entire system: your body, your mind, your thoughts and finally, your life. Ahhh.