Do not Mistake Arousal as Anxiety

We infer our emotions by looking at the body. All emotions are a combination of physiological arousal and cognitive appraisal. When arousal occurs, the immediate environment is examined for emotional cues which might label the arousal. The brain is literally asking “Why is this? What is causing this arousal?” Until the brain can evaluate the environment, it can’t determine the best possible reason for your arousal. This explains why people with anxiety are constantly scanning the environment for, and identifying threats: Whether they exist, or not, threats explain what is happening in the body.

Panic and the Fight or Flight Response

Two areas in the brain are sensitive to the possibility of threat, the cerebral cortex and the amygdala. The cortex is the seat of conscious awareness, logical and rational. The amygdala is primitive and emotional, an early warning system. Panic attacks are not rational. They represent the flight or fight response, generated by your amygdala. The amygdala doesn't listen to reason, it only learns through experience. Exposure therapy literally teaches your amygdala that a situation it detects as threatening is in fact safe, something you cannot learn through avoidance.

The Amygdala

nxiety is the product of evolution, simply because all organisms need some mechanism that senses and appraises threat. Given some threat to survival, the resources of the entire organism must be mobilized, and quickly, in order to flee or fight. This explains why anxiety can be aroused in milliseconds, why you feel anxiety simultaneously in your body and your mind, and why anxious symptoms so completely pervade your thoughts and emotions. Congrats, you inherited a fully featured threat detection system.