Is Being Anxious the New You?
What peace can we hope to find elsewhere…if we have none within us? – Saint Teresa of Avila
If you find that your anxiety is easily triggered and being anxious is beginning to seem like your status quo, don’t give up. There are simple steps you can take to make sure anxiety doesn’t define you.
Anxiety and the fight or flight response
Anxiety can be the result of frequent perceptions of threat (real or imagined) that wreak havoc with the chemistry of our body.
The ‘flight or fight’ response is a 40,000-year-old physiological mechanism, a reaction to the perception of a threat that creates biochemical changes that make us more alert, aggressive, fearful, angry, and lead us to fight or to flee. This requires an immense amount of physical exertion which then serves to burn off, by effectively metabolizing, this excess of stress hormones in our biochemistry.
So once the fighting or fleeing is over, and the threat—which triggered the response—has been eliminated, our body and mind return to a state of calm.
This is all well and good when we are physically threatened, but when the flight/fight response is triggered by a perceived threat like in a business meeting, a classroom, a social situation, or in heavy traffic, the fight or flight response isn’t appropriate.
Women are more at risk
The fight-or-flight response is activated more readily in women and stays activated longer than in men. What we would hope for is an optimal stress response, for real emergencies, so that we can deal with them effectively. But after dealing with the situation, the stress response and our stress hormones should normalize, (blood pressure should fall and heart rate slow down) so that we aren’t chronically anxious, worried, obsessive or aggressive.
However if the balance in our biochemistry doesn’t return—the stress hormones don’t get metabolized—then the stress can become chronic and we will habitually react to every little stimulation as if it were a threat. In other words, the fight or flight response can become overactive. This recurring stimulation can leave us with heightened stress levels even though the original cause of stress may have passed. This is known as Post Traumatic Stress. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems.
How the Transcendental Meditation technique works
The TM technique is practiced sitting comfortably for 20 minutes twice daily. In the first few minutes, both the mind and body start to settle down to a state of deep relaxation in which the functioning of the body and brain become more balanced and damage from stress begins to be eliminated. After a woman takes the TM course, she finds that her life improves spontaneously, naturally, and is redefined in terms of happiness instead of anxiety.
Scientific research indicates that the Transcendental Meditation program acts through various synergistic mechanisms to reduce the stress hormone level. In a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique was found to have a positive effect on reducing trait anxiety for people with high anxiety.(1)
Other studies found that TM produced significant improvements in other areas worsened by anxiety, such as blood pressure, insomnia, emotional numbness, family problems, employment status, and drug and alcohol abuse.
The Transcendental Meditation program can play an enormous role in inoculating our society against the many problems that grow out of chronic stress and anxiety. Don’t make living with anxiety the new norm. The payoff for learning how to decrease anxiety is peace of mind and, perhaps, a longer, healthier life.
1. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/acm.2013.0204
About the Author
Vanessa Vidal is the national director of TM for Women in the USA