The symptoms of anxiety can often appear and feel similar to 'everyday stress'. Recognizing the subtle yet significant differences is crucial for effectively addressing anxiety, preventing it from dominating daily life. Anxiety, as author Britt Frank describes, is much more than excessive worrying; it is a complex interplay of emotional and physiological responses to real or perceived threats.

Frank explains that anxiety serves as the brain's signal of potential danger, prompting the body to react in a protective manner. Anxiety functions as an internal alarm system, preparing us for danger. While this response is essential in critical situations, it can become overwhelming and debilitating when triggered by mundane events.

Author and psychotherapist Bessel van der Kolk notes that mundane events can trigger anxiety because they often subtly remind us of past traumatic experiences. According to van der Kolk, our brains and bodies store trauma memories, and everyday occurrences can unconsciously bring these memories to the surface, causing a deeply rooted stress response.

For example, a simple argument or a stressful day at work might evoke feelings of helplessness similar to those experienced during a previous traumatic event, leading to heightened anxiety. This reaction occurs because trauma fundamentally alters the brain and the body’s stress response system, making you more susceptible to anxiety even in non-threatening situations.

Emotionally traumatic experiences play a pivotal role in the development and persistence of anxiety disorders. As Gabor Maté, MD, eloquently states, 'Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.' This internalized impact of trauma often manifests as chronic anxiety, perpetuating a cycle of fear and distress.

Bessel van der Kolk further explains that 'the body keeps the score,' meaning that traumatic experiences are imprinted on both the mind and body, leading to heightened emotional/physical sensitivity to stress and anxiety triggers. The mind's reaction to perceived threats can be as intense as its response to actual dangers, thus generating a state of continuous alertness and stress.

The research shows that perceived stress triggers the same physical responses as real stressors. This understanding highlights the importance of managing our perceptions and thoughts. By recognizing the power of perception, we can develop strategies to reframe our thinking and reduce anxiety's impact on our well-being.

Unlike the occasional concerns we all experience, anxiety-related worry is incessant and often irrational. Compulsive obsessing over your troubles makes them seem larger and more persistent, making it difficult for you to relax or even sit still. The constant state of alertness and worry depletes energy reserves, leaving you feeling constantly tired. Alongside this fatigue, many people struggle with concentrating.

The emotional strain of ongoing worry can make you more easily agitated or prone to frustration, often manifesting physically as muscle tension. The muscles may feel tight, sore, or stiff, contributing to overall discomfort. Night time worries and a racing mind can keep you awake, leading to sleep disturbances that include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or lack of restful sleep.

If you consistently feel like you are drowning, it’s probably anxiety, which often presents as a flood of simultaneous stressors that the mind struggles to process: persistent worry, difficulty concentrating, and a pervasive sense of being unable to cope. Recognizing the signs of being overwhelmed and implementing coping strategies can significantly alleviate anxiety's grip.

Now that you understand the basics, it is critical to acknowledge that anxiety is actually a friend, not a foe. Why is your body on high alert? What is it trying to warn you about? Recognizing the symptoms and investigating why you are anxious is a critical first step. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic highlight that a healthy amount of anxiety can act as a built-in warning system, preparing us to react quickly to potential dangers and avoid harm.

Furthermore, Britt Frank explains that anxiety can serve as a critical signal, prompting us to reassess and realign aspects of our lives that might be off balance. This heightened awareness can potentially lead to necessary lifestyle changes and significant personal growth. Anxiety also has motivational benefits. The Yerkes-Dodson law suggests that moderate anxiety can improve performance, making us more diligent and prepared when facing challenges.

Understanding these nuanced benefits of anxiety allows us to reframe it as a potentially positive force, guiding us toward greater self-awareness, preparedness, and personal development. In my experience as a Stress and Anxiety Specialist, successful anxiety treatments often require a combination of talk therapy, somatic (body) processing, trauma therapy, and in severe cases, medication.

The aim is not to band-aid, bypass or distract from the real, often uncomfortable origins, but to identify the roots of your anxiety. Leverage yourself with the help of a qualified professional who will help you shine a torch on the scary “dark” unknown things that plague your subconscious or deep unconscious mind, and which show up dressed as anxiety. Let's remove the stigma and encourage people to seek the help they need. For support, visit