THE NATURE OF ANXIETY: THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF ANXIETY

Posted on December 9, 2009, under Anti Depressants-Sleeping Aid.

If we are to learn to master our anxiety in an enlightened fashion, we must first know something of its nature. What is anxiety? Unfortunately there is no complete agreement among psychiatrists on this subject, but it is possible to make a number of general statements that help to define anxiety. The ideas which I offer you now are a summary of a theme which I have developed elsewhere.

The Physical Basis of Anxiety-Our brain is continually receiving a great number of nervous impulses. Some of these are conscious, but the great majority are unconscious. These impulses arise from three different areas—from our external environment, from our body itself, and from our mind.

Information concerning external environment comes to our brain through our sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We are aware of some of these sensations, but a great deal of information of which we are not consciously aware also comes to our brain from all parts of the body. Thus the position of our limbs is being continually reported so that we can maintain our balance. The fullness of our stomach, the mobility of our bowels, and the functioning of all our other organs are likewise continually reported.

There is an even more complex stream of impulses which arise within the brain itself. At this level are our conscious thoughts, doubts and misgivings, loves and hates. Impulses come also from the unconscious activity of the mind. This includes all those problems and conflicts, worries and desires, which we can readily call to consciousness if we so desire. But beyond this mass of material which we can recall at will, there lies the unconscious itself with its memories of past experiences and all the hopes and fears which were associated with them. Although these unconscious memories are quite beyond our recall except under certain special circumstances, they have a continual effect on our mental functioning by virtue of impulses arising from them.

All these impulses—from the environment, from the body, and from the mind—have to be dealt with and integrated to allow the smooth working of the brain. If the number of impulses becomes too great the brain is unable to cope with the situation. There is in fact a level for all of us at which integration of the impulses becomes incomplete, and we experience this incomplete integration of the impulses as anxiety. The feeling of nervous tension or anxiety thus serves to warn us that all is not well in our mind.

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