What Happens When We Experience Anxiety


Anxiety is the name used to describe all feelings and symptoms a person experiences when they feel they are in danger. The feelings of caution, alarm, fear, terror, and panic are all part of anxiety. Anxiety is our body’s way of preparing and protecting us from danger. It is a physical response that is triggered by our perception of a threat in our environment. When we perceive something as dangerous (whether or not it is life-threatening) our body prepares us to fight, flight or freeze for our survival. This is called the fight/flight/freeze response.


When we are on edge often or experience trauma after trauma, our flight/flight/freeze response becomes a way of life. Sometimes, it contributes to developing an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, panic or generalized anxiety disorders. Everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a part of life but not everyone has an anxiety disorder.


The fight/flight/freeze response is automatic and sets a range of changes in your body with the aim of helping you to fight, run for safety, or you become to crippled by the situation you freeze.


One can experience the following:

  • Your breathing spends up to increase the amount of oxygen available for the muscles.

  • Heart rate and blood pressure increases to distribute oxygen and nutrients to major muscles. Blood is diverted to the large muscles for this purpose and away from the organs, digestive system and the skin. This is why you feel sick and go pale when you are anxious.

  • Muscles tense, preparing you for action.

  • Sweating increases to keep your body cool should you start to engage in fight or flight.

  • Digestion and other non-essential functions are temporarily put on hold until the danger passes. This can lead to nausea and diarrhea.

  • The mind becomes preoccupied with the threat and the danger is not to reason and concentrated as it normally would.

Therapy, mindfulness, calm breathing and muscle relaxation can help to manage your anxiety. Facing your fears, exercise and challenging anxious thoughts will help you too. Learning to manage anxiety takes a lot of hard work but the only way to get better is to practice.



This piece was repurposed from Clare Rosoman.

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