Anxiety tells us that something may not be right and that we may have to do something to be safe. Our ancestors probably survived because of it. That’s like the sense of hair standing on end, the goosebumps, the sinking feeling in our stomach, the pressure on our chests, the tension in our neck and shoulders, the sense of vigilance, the constant worrying thoughts, the difficulty falling asleep then waking easily, the restlessness    something’s not right.

Actually, we should be grateful for this kind of anxiety. Our ancestors who paid attention survived and passed these traits on to us; other would-be ancestors did not survive and there are no offspring among us. Just us worriers.

Feel better? A little gratitude goes a long way.

There is another level of anxiety besides simple worrying. It’s known as the “Fight or Flight” reaction.

We were programmed this way from the beginning. A Clear Sign of Danger, let’s say a bear on our path lowering its head, pawing the ground, and about to charge us and another guy. That should do it. Our body instantly reacts: adrenal glands release hormones; heart rate increases; brain waves change; sugar levels in the blood increase; pupils enlarge to let in more light; blood flow in extremities decreases to minimize blood loss and to send blood where it’s needed; housekeeping organs such as the kidneys and liver go off-line (we don’t need them in the next 10 minutes). Our ancestor did not need to outrun the bear – just the other guy (or gal).

One branch of our nervous system the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has a direct role in our reaction to stress. The ANS causes the body to shift energy toward fighting off a threat or fleeing from an enemy. Remember ‘’fight or flight’’? Thank you, ANS. We are the progeny of ancestors with really good autonomic nervous systems.

But wait.

 There can be a cost. Chronic stress over a prolonged period of time can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic system continues to trigger physical reactions it can cause wear and tear on the body. Continuous activation of other bodily symptoms becomes problematic. If this happens, talk to your primary care provider or a psychologist.


American Psychological Association

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