We like having alarm systems in our homes and places of work. They alert us to danger and help keep us safe. Now imagine that the alarm system keeps going off unnecessarily; the alarm can sound at any time, even when there’s no danger present at all. And aswell as being unpredictable, you struggle to stop the alarm and you can’t control how long the alarm sounds for. This means that you struggle to get your work done and find it really difficult to relax. All you can do is hope that the alarm will stop and won’t return any time soon.
This is what it can feel like to have an anxiety disorder. You’re on high alert even if there aren’t any dangers present. Your personal alarm system is going off inside your head unnecessarily and you’re not in control of it. This alarm can sound at any time, whether you’re having a good day or not. And how long will it go on for? Who knows! It’s beyond your control. This can make daily activities very difficult to complete.
Allow me to explain this a little bit further…
Anxiety can be very important, it’s a natural human behaviour that keeps us alive. For our ancestors, anxiety would have triggered the fight or flight response and allowed them to escape from a predator just in time. For our modern-day selves, anxiety can help us spot a dangerous situation and then escape from it. Quite simply, anxiety is a survival mechanism and it is natural for all humans to experience it from time to time.
It is also natural for humans to experience anxiety in situations where we feel out of our comfort zone or when we’re nervous about something. Some examples of this could include: job interviews, entering the exam hall or going on a first date. It’s pretty normal for us to feel nervous about these situations.
However, for someone with an anxiety disorder, the same feeling you get when you’re entering the exam hall can creep up on you at any time, regardless of what situation you’re currently in. You could be talking with a friend, going shopping, or even about to fall asleep… and then suddenly anxiety appears. Again, your personal alarm system is being alerted in situations where you’re not necessarily in danger.
So to summarise – what do alarm systems and anxiety have in common?
Anxiety is very much like your own personal alarm system. It helps us to react to potential danger and keep us safe. However, we don’t like it when the alarm goes off unnecessarily or when anxiety appears without any explanation.
We need to be alerted to danger without living in high alert.