Feeling Anxious? It’s Just Adrenaline
Everything anxiety does is meant to help us survive in life-threatening situations.
I DON’T BLAME YOU FOR GETTING THIS WRONG!
This might surprise you, but anxiety isn’t the monster you’ve made it out to be!
Believe me or not, but even when it causes pain and suffering, it actually has the very best of intentions.
As a matter of fact, anxiety is trying to keep you safe, and can even save your life!
You see, your body has an internal alarm system of sorts, commonly called the fight-or-flight response.
Whenever you feel threatened, this alarm system goes off, and your bloodstream is pumped full of adrenaline and other stress hormones.
This reaction, coupled with the stress hormones floating through your system makes your body act in a very predictable way.
- Your breathing and heart rate increases
- Muscles tense up
- Sweating is increased
- You might tremble and shake
The list goes on, with all the classic symptoms of anxiety, stress, panic, and fear.
ANXIETY JUST WANTS TO HELP
Ultimately, they are all caused by a body full of adrenaline as the fight-or-flight response does its thing.
And interestingly, you can actually tell how most of these symptoms are meant to keep you safe.
For example, your heart starts racing, and your breathing rate increases to get more oxygen to your muscles.
In a life-threatening situation this would allow you to fight or run both harder and faster, increasing your chance of survival.
Muscles tense up in preparation for action as they fill with blood, and sweating increases to cool you down.
In fact, everything anxiety does, all of its uncomfortable symptoms included, is meant to help us survive in life-threatening situations.
THE PROBLEM REALLY IS THAT ANXIETY IS STUPID
“But…” I can hear you asking,
“If anxiety is meant to keep me safe, why does it cause so much pain and suffering?”
Well, if this internal alarm system of ours only activated when we were actually in danger it wouldn’t be a problem.
You’ve probably heard stories of people reacting in split-seconds to save themselves or others in dangerous situations.
Those are examples of the alarm system, and a body full of adrenaline, working in our favor the way it’s intended to.
But this alarm system of ours isn’t very smart.
In fact, it’s overly sensitive. The activation happens even when the perceived threat isn’t real, or when it makes no sense to be scared.
It has for example not evolved to tell the difference between an angry boss and an incoming animal attack.
It doesn’t make sense, but to our alarm system these are both equally threatening, and can cause the same exact anxiety and panic.
Similarly, many people who would never dare step foot on a plane will happily get in their car every day.
But it’s been shown repeatedly that cars are overwhelmingly more dangerous than airplanes.
As you can tell, anxiety simply hasn’t evolved to be smart or logical.
YOU REACT WITH FEAR AND RESISTANCE, DON’T YOU?
With this in mind, how many of us can say that we view anxiety for what it really is?
A slightly stupid, but well-meaning internal alarm system.
I’m willing to bet you react the way most people do, with fear and resistance.
You might even believe, as many do, that anxiety can be dangerous or harmful.
- “My heart is beating too fast, it might give out any second now.”
- “I can’t breathe, oh my god, I’m going to die.”
- “I’m going crazy!”
These fears and your resistance is completely understandable and natural, but also unnecessary.
Anxiety simply can’t harm you or make you go crazy. In fact, even the worst panic attack imaginable isn’t enough to do harm.
As Dr. Claire Weekes puts it in her book “Hope and Help for Your Nerves”:
“You do not know that your symptoms are caused by adrenaline secreted when you are afraid, anxious.
Nor do you know that adrenaline can act only on certain organs and then only in a certain way and that this is why the pattern of your symptoms is set, limited.
The pattern is so set that many nervously ill people have already experienced the worst their nerves can bring them, but you do not know this.”
ARE YOU WILLING TO ACCEPT?
So what is the alternative if you were to not fear and resist your anxiety?
Care to take a guess?
The answer is the complete opposite of resistance, to face your anxiety with absolute acceptance.
And let’s be clear about what I mean when I write “acceptance”.
It doesn’t mean to simply tolerate your anxiety, it’s more than that.
As it is defined in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT):
It means to experience your anxiety and everything it throws at you with complete willingness.
This will require you to not only invite anxiety in, but as Barry McDonagh writes in “Dare”:
“Run toward anxiety by telling yourself you feel excited by your anxious thoughts and feelings.”
I know it’s easier said than done, but once you learn to willingly experience your anxiety, you have won.
Anxiety has surprisingly little power when it can no longer manipulate you into fueling the fire with your worries and fear.
ANXIETY IS A CURIOUS THING
So the next time you feel anxious, don’t tense up. Instead, observe your anxiety with excitement and curiosity.
Isn’t it weird how adrenaline can make your heart beat faster, increase your sweating, and make your head spin?
Now, remember what Claire Weekes writes:
“You have already experienced the worst your nerves can bring you, but you do not know this.”
And test this for yourself by running straight toward your anxiety, embracing it, and even demanding more!
Say it out loud if you must:
“Is this all you can do, anxiety? Give me some more adrenaline, let me have it!”
It’s scary, trust me I know. I’ve certainly struggled with accepting my own anxiety the same way you now must yours.
But it’s a crucial step toward recovery!
Once you willingly accept, embrace, and demand more, something strange will happen.
Anxiety will release its hold, it will cease, and it will retreat with its tail between its legs.