The Limits of Anxiety

Sure, everyone feels anxious at one time or another. There are situations and people and behaviors we’re quite right to feel uneasy or apprehensive about for all kinds of reasons. But the three Thinking center types know and live with anxiety on a different, more fundamental, level since anxiety (fear without a focal point) is their primary issue. Types 5, 6, and 7 each have a different focus for their anxiety (they fear different things) and deal with it differently, but all of them live with it to one extent or another.

Fear is a reaction to a perceived threat. It signals us that we’re in danger so we can react to the threat and save ourselves. If we succeed in saving ourselves, we’re no longer afraid because the threat is over. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a chronic state of worry. There’s no specific action we can take to resolve it because there’s no clearly identifiable threat. It’s kind of an anti-survival mechanism because over the long haul it can have deadly consequences.

Anxiety also takes up a lot of space. When we’re anxious about something, we tend to fret about it excessively to the point of tuning out other things we should maybe be paying attention to. This sort of excessive rumination itself generates even more anxiety. It’s a self-feeding cycle that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s completely unproductive.

And anxiety about one thing can generate an anxious state of mind that begins to think anxiously about everything. The more anxious a person becomes, the more constricted he or she feels and the fewer activities he or she participates in. Eventually anxiety manifests itself in physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, higher levels of cortisol, insomnia, etc. Anxiety can affect us mentally, emotionally, and physically. Someone affected to this extent is considered to have an anxiety disorder.

Danger, Will Robinson

But even anxiety that hasn’t built to the point of being a classifiable or diagnosable condition can diminish our experience of and appreciation for life. It turns out that chronic anxiety may actually also put us in a bit of danger.

A study conducted by Tahl Frenkel, a graduate student in psychology at Tel Aviv University, revealed that individuals who are more anxious are actually slower than their mellower counterparts to pick up on cues in the environment that signal potential danger.

The result implies that worriers are less aware of potential danger—challenging the common theory that anxious individuals are hypervigilant. Frenkel believes that worrywarts’ low sensitivity to external warning signs causes them to be startled frequently by the seemingly sudden appearance of threats, which leaves them in a state of chronic stress.

The study, reported in Scientific American Mind, showed that although the mellower individuals reacted more slowly than did the anxious ones, their brain activity indicated they picked up on environmental cues much more quickly. The brains of the anxious subjects, on the other hand, barely responded to external cues until they had reached “a certain obvious threshold, at which point their brains leapt into action as though caught off guard.”

So perhaps anxiety doesn’t make us hypervigilant after all. Maybe a chronically high anxiety level prevents us from actually being aware of what is going on around us. When you think about it, this really seems entirely logical. And it’s a good reason to make de-stressing a priority for all types.

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10 responses to “The Limits of Anxiety

  1. There is something about this post that worries me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. 😉

  2. Now I’m anxious that I’m anxious!

  3. Oh, no! That wasn’t the plan. Must be time to go get a massage. 🙂

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