When the creature you inhabit perceives a threat, its flight-or-fight response makes it physically stronger, temporarily. If you are ever attacked, this ability to be strong fast can save your life, as it has your ancestors’. There is a price to pay for this gift: The demand to become physically strong right now taxes the body.
A fight-or-flight reaction in the absence of objective danger is not protective. The repeated, unnecessary demands on the biological creature weaken it and can produce negative medical, occupational, and social consequences – not to mention the gratuitous suffering.
Reacting to perceived threat in ways that are harmful to the self may be categorized as Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the technical term for chronic worry. It is experienced as non-specific persistent anxiety and an excessive focus on the threatening aspects of everyday life.
An intense fear or motivation to avoid a specific stimulus, e.g., snakes, flying. It is pathological when it interferes with occupational or social functioning.
People with social phobia fear they will embarrass themselves. They are overly concerned about public scrutiny and the many possibilities for humiliation.
Panic attacks are common; everyone experiences them once in a while. Panic disorder results from the appraisal that the symptoms of panic – e.g., elevated heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate – are themselves threatening. The positive feedback between the symptoms of panic and the alarm reactions they trigger is analogous to the audio feedback that occurs when a microphone is too close to a speaker.
Medication Vs. Mastery
Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable of the psychiatric disorders described in the DSM-IV. Chemotherapy is popular because it is easy and produces quick results. However, there are several disadvantages to this approach, including side effects and tolerance. For individuals who have the cognitive abilities to use it successfully, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy along with Mindfulness training produces better long-term outcome. Like learning to drive, once you learn the skill the change is irreversible.
There are several effective, non-chemical paths treatment approaches for Anxiety Disorders. Tina and Bill have each accompanied many individuals through this passage. Everyone’s biography is different, and each individual has a unique adventure. The first, and probably the most important, treatment decision is to choose a therapist and treatment approach that is well matched with you.
Tina and Bill have different approaches. Tina is focused on the story, Bill is focused on the puzzle. For more about Tina’s approach, please visit her musings [top right of this page]. To learn more about Bill’s approach, you may download his treatment manual: Avoidable Suffering. at no charge. The manual contains summaries of this literature along with exercises to practice changing your subjective experience so that you can perform as intended during high-risk situations.