How has anxiety evolved?

How has anxiety evolved?

Occasional anxiousness can be expected among all individuals. But as times have changed, and demands now concern professional pursuits, social media, incurring economic debt, etc., the paradigm of anxiety has dramatically (and suddenly) shifted.

What is anxiety?

Tightness in the chest. Endless insomnia. A so-called sense of lingering dread.

These are just some of the many clinical symptoms that individuals describe experiencing when suffering from anxiety. Unlike stress, which manifests as a short-term body response to a trigger, anxiety can become crippling to a person’s being. In anticipation of a future issue, those with anxiety are in constant fight-or-flight mode and can experience muscle tension and adopt avoidance behavior.

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dry mouth
  • fear
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • chills or hot flashes
  • restlessness
  • distress
  • sweating
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • apprehension

Should individuals with anxiety not seek appropriate treatment, they may indeed suffer panic attacks and/or develop anxiety disorders like that of social anxiety.

Is anxiety normal?

Anxiety indeed is a normal occurrence: every person experiences it at one point in their lives. A perfect example of such is that of an individual who turns a corner unto a dark alley all alone. In this case, that subject may experience an increase in heart rate, as well as a more shallow breath intake.  This does not suggest that that individual is on the brink of developing an anxiety disorder. Rather, anxiety here is acting as the body’s natural defense mechanism to look out for danger and guarantee safety.

Occasional anxiousness to anxiety disorders

However, when anxiety impairs the individual from carrying out day-to-day activities or is not age-appropriate or in proportion with the situation, then maladaptive beliefs can come into play and trigger the onset of disorders. These maladaptive beliefs can be characterized as rigid, rationally unsupported, or negatively biased in nature.

The severity of anxiety disorders, as well as the repercussions of no treatment sought, range from one individual to the next. Yet, it can be stated that people with anxiety disorders will have a higher likelihood of going to the doctor or being admitted to the hospital for psychiatric disorders than those who do not.

Interestingly enough, while many anxiety disorders can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy or prescribed medication, approximately 64% of those presenting with such mental health problems will not receive treatment. This number is alarming, given that in the United States alone, 18% of the general population suffers from one of the many known anxiety disorders.

How anxiety has evolved

Again, occasional anxiousness can be expected among all individuals. Indeed, from an evolutionary standpoint, anxiety was and has served as means for both humans and animals alike to satisfy rudimentary needs, e.g. hunger, thirst, shelter and ensure safety, e.g. predators in the short term.

In what scientists deem as an immediate-return environment, individuals and animals take actions related to their surroundings to deliver definitive, immediate outcomes at a moment’s instance and provide relief.

The most practical example of this can be an early morning routine, in which an individual wakes up with a parched mouth. An ever so slight trace of anxiety courses through that person, and a result, has them walking to the kitchen to drink a glass of water and quench their thirst immediately. Instant respite.

But as times have changed, and demands now concern professional pursuits, social media, incurring economic debt, etc., the paradigm of anxiety has dramatically (and suddenly) shifted. In less than 600 years, global society has become witness to unprecedented technological and telecommunication advances.  The immediate-return environment, for which the human brain had been so specifically designed on a biological level, has now faded into the backdrop. In its place, a delayed-return environment takes center stage and modern-day problems lack the erstwhile “quick-relief” solutions that were so common.

“How will I pay off my $100,000 university loan? Will I be able to close next month’s deal with the Chinese client? My girlfriend of 8 years has to work in San Francisco, but I cannot leave my dream job in Boston.”

These are some of the many preoccupations that can flood individuals’ thoughts and increase both levels of anxiety and proneness to anxiety disorders.

In a delayed-return environment, the magnitude of uncertainty is much bigger. It is indeed more constant, and what has shaped anxiety to become more gripping and paralyzing.

While effective treatments and methods do exist to alleviate problems of this kind, individuals must seek such help lest they remain in a continuous state of tension and alarm.

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