The purpose of anxiety

Why do we get anxious? The usual explanation is that it is designed to help use fight or flee from danger or threat. This is true but it also functions to keep our feelings away from our conscious awareness. Take for example when you get angry. You know you are angry but your body reacts with tension in muscles , raised heart rate, chest tightness and dry mouth. This combination is signs of anxiety and not anger. But how can this be even though you know you are feeling angry?

In addition to helping us respond to external threats by activating our sympathetic nervous system releasing adrenaline into our bloodstream, anxiety is triggered when we experience emotions that have become unacceptable to us, effectively becoming an internal threat or danger to our psyche. So our system perceives them as a threat and we react with physical anxiety.

This is a very common problem and often in therapy I find clients will identify the feeling they have as anger or sadness and then go on to describe anxiety in their body.

What can do about this? Firstly we can be clear about what is what. Call it what it really is. Anxiety is anxiety – not feelings of anger or sadness etc..

The effect of living with  anxiety being mislabelled as anger and other feelings is that we are deceived by our own psyche into not paying close attention to ourselves. Effectively we ignore ourselves thinking we are being so attentive but in reality we are living with an internal deception.

By being clear about it in our minds we can begin the work of self-awareness, paying attention t ourselves and noticing what is going on inside us. Then we can make decisions about whether this is the way we want to live.