Is my anxiety normal?

So you’re putting final touches on a presentation for the big meeting tomorrow. You’re feeling anxious and tense, and that’s not typical for you. You’ve found yourself obsessively reviewing your notes. Your stomach’s even a little upset, but you still feel you’ve got things under control. Well, given the situation, what you’re experiencing isn’t abnormal. And your anxiety might be just what’s needed to motivate you to do your best.

Let’s consider a different situation. Say, you’re giving a presentation tomorrow, but it’s one you’ve given dozens of times. There’s really no reason to worry, which everyone’s telling you. Hearing that doesn’t help though, and it never does. This is pretty typical for you. You may realize your worry is irrational, but it persists — and your heart’s racing. You even consider avoiding the meeting altogether. That is normal anxiety gone haywire, and it’s painful and unproductive.

In the short term, anxiety can cause dramatic spikes in your blood pressure, but it doesn’t result in high blood pressure in the long term. However, if these episodes of anxiety start occurring every day, they can damage your blood vessels, your heart, and your kidneys in the same way that chronic hypertension does. Making matters worse, men with ongoing and untreated anxiety are at risk for heavy smoking, drinking too much, and overeating — all of which increase their chances of hypertension and heart disease. This is important for men to keep in mind, because they are at greater risk than women for both hypertension and fatal heart disease.

The amygdala (or amygdalae; there’s one on each side of your brain) plays an important role in the neurobiology of anxiety. It is responsible for processing and storing memories associated with emotional events — including anxiety and the “fight or flight” response — and works closely with high-level executive structures of the brain to regulate emotional processes. The amygdala is believed to be a major player in the learning of “conditioned” fear, in which a stimulus becomes liked with a behavioral reaction (think Pavlov’s dogs). People with an overactive amygdala may have a heightened response to fear, which can cause increased anxiety in social situations. In the majority of cases, anxiety therapy or talk therapy is effective in reducing or eliminating the symptoms of anxiety.

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