By peace | December 16, 2006
Freedom from Fear By Norman Rockwell
A.J. Cronin, author and physician, in his autobiography Adventures In Two Worlds relates the case of Willie, a baker who is told by Cronin that he may have cancer of the tongue. Two days is required for a pathology report. During the two days, Willie, normally a stolid man, dies a thousand deaths. His imagination conjures up horrible visions of an operation in which his tongue is cut out by the roots. He seriously considers suicide when he stands looking at the local river. He relates none of this to his wife or friends. He is told at the end of the two days that he has a harmless papilloma of the tongue.
Was it fear or was it anxiety that Willie experienced during his two-day emotional ordeal? The answer is that he experienced both. To the extent that he had real cause for alarm, he experienced fear. To the extent that irrational ideas or an overactive imagination distorted his thinking, he experienced pathological anxiety.
Fear is a rational emotional response to a real threat. Pathological anxiety is an irrational emotional resonse to an imagined threat. If you walk down a dark alley in an unfamiliar city and a stranger stops you with a drawn gun, you experience fear. If you walk down a familiar street in broad daylight, and begin to imagine that some disaster is about to descend upon you without warning, you experience pathological anxiety. The two are tangled together. And it is not always possible to clearly distinguish them.
It is very appropriate to speak of ‘worrying about worry’. Persons with neurotic tendencies tend to chew on their anxieties the way dogs chew on bones. There is a circular quality to their thinking, and the circle takes them downward until they are a quivering mass of apprehension. This is one of the characteristic aspects of pathological anxiety.
A type of anxiety often experienced by troubled persons is called free-floating anxiety. It is ‘free-floating’ because it is attached to nothing. It can be described as a cloud that follows the person everywhere, as if it were on a string. And the anxiety casts a long shadow over existence, making the individual constantly on the alert.
The overanxious person is hypervigilant. Anything and anyone may pose a hazard. There is a persistent state of arousal. The pulse is elevated, respirations are rapid, and blood pressure is high. This is essentially a fight-or-flight reaction. But where is the enemy? What is the source of threat?
Anxiety is a most distressing symptom. It is no wonder that antianxiety drugs have become perhaps the most popular prescription medicines ever produced. It is intolerable to be in a steady state of anxiety. Escape is essential.
Other signs and symptoms related to the major symptom of anxiety are:
- Tight muscles
- Feeling tired
- Difficulty breathing
- Being cross and out of sorts
- Problems in maintaining attention
- Sleep disturbances
The anxious person has tight muscles because the fight-or-flight reaction has been activated, and the body is ready for action (action that seldom materializes). It is understandable that victims of anxiety feel tired. Their muscles and bodies are working overtime for no objective reason.
A breathing difficulty can refer to labored breathing or hyperventilation. The diaphragm, involved in the action of the lungs, is also a muscle. And it can be overly tight. When there is perpetual, low-grade anxiety the person often works too hard when breathing. On the other hand, if there is hyperanxiety or a panic attack, there is great excitement. And the individual may hyperventilate.
Chronic anxiety interferes with happiness. Therefore, it is understandable that its victims are often cross and out of sorts. A worried person may have a problem in attending to tasks, a lecture, or to something being read. The fantasies and random thoughts associated with the anxiety draw attention away from the objective, external world toward the subjective, internal world. Such individuals often seem to be ‘somewhere else’.
Anxiety is a complicating factor in sleep disturbances. Assume that anxiety and its related symptoms are chronic. And also assume that the individual experiences substantial distress. In a case such as this, the psychiatric term used to describe the syndrome is generalized anxiety disorder (anxiety neurosis).
Fear something and it gains power over you.