Written by S. Bowyer

     Society believes that anxiety is abnormal, when in fact, it's a normal biological process in the brain. Unless anxiety is stopping you from enjoying aspects of your life, or stopping you from undertaking certain tasks, then it is at a functional level. But what is the point of anxiety and what function does it serve us? Why does it exist?

     Deep inside our heads is the "id", which tells us what our body needs. It tells us messages such as,
"I'm hungry."
"I'm thirsty."
"I want more friends."
"I'm cold."
"My parents should have loved me more."
"I don't want to be so stupid all the time."
"My culture says I'm a bad person."

     Each of these statements come from needs. Maslow, a psychologist, found out that people go through stages where each of these needs come from. Draw a little pyramid in your mind with five levels and from top to bottom, write in these sections:

Body needs: food, water, warmth

Security needs: family safety, being safe from danger

Love and belonging: needing people to love us, include us in activities

Esteem: the need to like who we are

Self actualisation: accepting and liking ourselves despite what others say, building on our strengths, knowing every part of ourselves

     The human body uses anxiety to make sure these needs are dealt with. Each of these are like internal see-saws that are best kept at an even level. As we go through our day, some of them will tip and the brain knows our body needs to put them back level. So, our body creates anxiety or discomfort to ensure we are going to act on them. Inside ourselves we are seeking a balance, an equilibrium, and that's what anxiety is telling us: we need to balance something. Something needs to be fixed. It's not abnormal or a punishment. Our body is just telling us it wants something changed. Our brains regulate more than just what our physical body needs; it tells us what our "soul" wants too.

     So what happens when we get anxious? Why do we have those symptoms if it's just a message something needs to be changed? When we have inbalances we are at threat of being hurt or uncomfortable. Our brain tells us we have to eat NOW because we are going to lose energy; our brain tells us we need attention NOW or we will feel isolated, and our brain tells us to not be stupid because we are afraid people are going to think bad of us. We don't want these feelings to happen. Therefore, the brain goes into "action mode" and pumps the body up to prepare for action.

     Think of the mother tiger in the Savannah. Her baby is being threatened by an elephant and she feels the need to protect it. Her heart rate increases, her breathing speeds up, her body prepares her with super-strength, and she is ready to fight. This is what our bodies are doing when we get anxious. Our discomfort is like the elephant that is going to take our child away -- our comfort -- and we don't want it to win.

     Let's look at this scenario again. Let's say Shelly, who is 35, is a homemaker and stays home to care for her 3 children. One day her husband dies in a car accident and she now has to care for them. How is she going to feel? Anxious. What do you think she's thinking?
"I haven't worked in years -- I won't have enough money."
"The children won't understand and are going to be in pain."
"We might lose our home."
"I don't understand how the finances will be arranged. My husband always did those things."
"Who's going to help with the children?"
"I'm going to be lonely."

     Is there any wonder Shelly is stressed? No, because her brain now realises that every tier of her need profile is going to be aching to be addressed. Once the intial shock of his death subsides, and maybe somewhat during, the brain is going to surge with thoughts of the risks and changes that have happened. The brain rushes through the ideas because it has so many needs to address, which of course, can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Her security needs are shattered because she doesn't know if she can keep the house or if the finances will hold out. Her love and belonging needs are broken because she's going to be lonely for the affection of her husband. The biological needs of both her and her children are going to be at risk because they might not have enough money to live on. This just can't be helped. Her brain knows these things and so puts her in a state of anxiety to give her the energy and motivation to act. Within weeks she may ask for help from relatives, apply for a job, contact Centrelink, or something else. The anxiety is what makes her do this; if she didn't have it, she would let things slide and the future of her family would be in jeporady.

     How could Shelly diffuse anxiety? Crying helps. People often cry in these times and this can be good. If you are feeling anxious and get teary, let yourself cry. Tears help expel the discomfort and anxiety. It helps the body let out the threatened feeling and cleans out your sinuses. You're allowed to cry. Anyone who frowns upon it is probably someone who might be addressing their own needs selfishly and so feels no remorse for saying such things. They are ignorant. What they are really saying is, "I do what I want without consideration of others -- I don't care about anyone but myself."

     If you are feeling anxious about decisions in life, it normally means you are more thoughtful of your choices, and not someone who will make rash decisions to fall flat on your face. Your brain is full with consequences and you are a beautiful, emotional human being who acts how they feel is right.

     If you find your anxiety is halting you from dealing with problems, enjoying your life, or functioning in every-day life, it might help to see a counsellor. They can help you change your anxiety from freeze ray into action planner.

See next: Needs and the Id, Ego and Superego

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