Let me begin this blog with a couple of paragraphs, simply intended to record and reflect upon a truly universal mental and behavioural phenomenon. Human fear and anxiety are as old as is humanity itself. Indeed, our sub- and early human forefathers not only experienced fear; they left ample record of its powerful cognitive- and behaviour-shaping influence, for later ages and generations of man to clearly behold. Tableau and etchings on rocks and in caves provide just one form of evidence: hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt; the Old Testament, i.e. the historical record of the “Children of Israel” and their contemporaries, together with writings reliably ascribed to classical Greek and Roman scholars, supply yet another.
All of these and more lay bare clear evidence of an irrefutable pattern of a continuing and – in many ways as we shall see – unifying emotion. Indeed, early-day philosophers were swift to suggest the universality of anxiety as a fundamental condition of life and as a prime motivator in human behaviour. Nearer our day and age, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) maintained that fear was a characteristic inherently obtained and thus propagated, by all animal and human life.
Perhaps the most helpful and productive way of introducing the nitty-gritty of this particular blog, is to pose and thereafter attempt to respond to a very simple question; namely, what actually is anxiety? To this, I guess, many people would respond to the effect that it is an agitated and troubled state of mind, resulting from a given perception/awareness; itself giving rise to feelings of disquiet, unease and in extreme instances, blind panic.
Not for the first time throughout the course of my writing to you using the blog format, are we being made aware of a simple but evident truth; namely that the deciding, indeed crucial factor, has almost as much to do with our uniquely individual appraisal and interpretation of things, events and/or the actions of people about us etc. i.e. our perception; as it has to do with the occurrence itself. (I use the word “almost”, simply because some happenings/ occurrences are inherently more anxiety provoking than others).
As we witnessed in a much earlier blog; where we interpret a circumstance or event as dangerous, threatening or alarming, we simultaneously undergo and experience a range of physiological changes, as our Autonomic Nervous Systems/ (ANS”s) • are aroused and activated. This – as we have seen – produces familiar bodily and behavioural responses. We breathe more rapidly and shallowly. Heart rate increases; the throat and lips dry up and bowel function can be affected. We are inclined to focus almost exclusively upon the object or cause of danger; and short term memory relating to other contemporaneous matters may well become fragmented and distorted. Consequently we feel tense, may tremble and, in extreme instances, experience bouts of dizziness and/or disorientation. Previous experience and learning is of course likely to modify certain responses, which are part of our assessment as to just how real or severe – or indeed, imminent – such threat is perceived to be.
Thus, a key part of the actual process of growing up has to do with our ability to learn and to (and, yes, here is that word again) adapt, via the development of skills and strategies for the acquisition of control. We learn from infancy onward to begin to organize and manage our feelings at times of, for instance, separation (at first only perhaps for an hour or so) when as a child we may be left with another family member or friend; or as when we go off to begin to socialize, e.g. playgroup activity, and later schooling and the like.
In differing – yet universally similar ways – we learn to cope with strangers, animals, together with an increasingly wide range of person-orientated and environmentally-linked situations. For example, we learn to manage heights, depths darkness, and unusual noises. We may – depending on temperament, personality and other individual differences/previous experience – display differing levels of fear, ranging from none at all, through to an intense and almost paralysing dread of, for, say, spiders, mice, ghosts, elevators, aeroplanes, wasps and so on.
How then do we begin to unravel and develop simple coping responses deemed to be necessary on such occasions? This,(and hopefully, more beside) I aim to address in my next blog to you.