The Vicious Cycle
Anxiety is caused when danger is perceived and often overestimated and the coping strategy is underestimated. The nervous system, comprising the Central Nervous System (CNS) Autonomic Nervous system (ANS) and Enteric Nervous System (ENS), acts as a messenger service and when danger is perceived these systems work interdependently to produce a reaction. For example, if you hear footsteps behind you late at night your CNS receives the information and makes you walk more quickly, your ANS will prepare you for running or dealing with the danger (fight or flight) and your ENS may try to eliminate waste to speed you up.
This helped when, as early humans, we faced predators, but now, much perceived danger is in the form of othersâ opinions, or too much work etc, but our bodies still react in the same way. This fight/flight response by the ANS results in faster heartbeat, shallow, quick breathing, tension in the muscles, sweating and disturbed digestion etc.
If there is a constant perception of âthreatâ the autonomic system it goes into overdrive and after months or years of this, might result in illnesses, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines etc. of course, chronic anxiety can also produce psychological problems too. The main cause of the anxiety is how the âdangerâ is perceived.
An example is one person is walking along a street at night and hears footsteps behind her, she thinks she is going to be mugged and her ANS is aroused and she begins to speed up. She gets home and decides not to walk along that street again at night.
Another person is walking along a street at night and hears footsteps behind her. She thinks it is her boyfriend trying to catch her up and so she slows down to wait, feeling calm and relaxed.
It is the same event, but perceived in different ways, leading to different emotions, physiological reactions and behaviour. The way an event is viewed has a huge impact on how we feel and behave.