First Light Healthcare


Anxiety affects most of us at some point in our lives. What is anxiety, how much anxiety is normal, and when does it become a problem? Psychologist Mee Hee Douglas shares her insights.



What is anxiety?

Anxiety is part of our sympathetic nervous system, so anxiety begins in the body and it is there to help us to prepare in the face of a threat or a perceived threat, so anxiety is actually a very normal part of human experience.
From the time that we are born to the time that we die we need to have anxiety as part of our makeup.

When does anxiety become a problem?

Anxiety becomes a problem for people when the experience of a perceived threat overwhelms that person’s ability to cope.

Is anxiety becoming more common?

I think that anxiety is becoming more common in people now and I think the reason for that is twofold. The first is because there’s so much out there talking about anxiety as a concrete health problem, that the message is almost that we shouldn’t be experiencing anxiety at all. So, even when it’s within a normal range of anxiety it can be perceived by a person as being abnormal, which in itself could be experienced as something psychologically threatening.
The second reason why there’s an increase in anxiety is because of the pressures of everyday living have increased with things like technology and our socio-economic climate. There’s a lot of pressure on people to do more and to do it faster, so people are unable to have the space I believe really needed in order to be able to manage all their emotional experience the frustrations and stresses and so forth, so I think that’s why there’s an increase in anxiety.

Does anxiety always require treatment?

I think if someone is experiencing anxiety sometimes a person can find ways in themselves to be able to manage that anxiety, but it depends on the severity and also how long that anxiety has been going on. So I think that if someone is experiencing severe anxiety – which means overbearing amounts of anxiety for a long period of time – that person should seek some help in the way of individual psychological treatment.
But if it is, say, a situational anxiety or it’s moderate and not very long-lasting, I think there are some things that an individual person can do in order to manage that anxiety. Given what I was saying before, one of the first things a person can do when they’re experiencing anxiety is to acknowledge that it’s a normal response to a situation that they are perceiving as threatening, and that might be simply things like not knowing, a sense of uncertainty a fear of the unknown.

Can anxiety impact on our physical health?

Because anxiety starts in the body and is a bodily experience, chronic anxiety can have physical health consequences. For example, the research would show that even ten minutes of experiencing high levels of anxiety – which might encompass other emotions such as anger or stress – reduces our immune response by thirty percent. So, you can imagine that if anxiety is experienced in a chronic way, that can have physical health consequences, often health problems such as asthma, eczema, dermatitis,  possibly autoimmune problems.

Are some people more prone to anxiety than others?

Some people are constitutionally and temperamentally more anxious than others some people’s threat response is more sensitive.