You may have heard of Ivan Pavlov and his dogs and how he created a conditioned response in the dogs. Basically, what he did was the following:
He brought food to a dog and of course, the dog began to salivate when the food arrived. After a while, he started to ring a bell as the food arrived and of course the dog would salivate. What he then discovered is that if he just rang the bell, the dog would salivate even though there was no food presented – the sound of the bell triggered the same response.
Primary and secondary fear
What first scares the amygdala is often termed as the initial or primary fear. They are unthinking, instinctive responses that we have. The response or secondary fear is the way we feel about the primary fear. This is usually the problem with “anxiety”.
However, the primary fear is not always an inherited reaction to a stimulus. The primary fear can be a learned fear and we can also retrain an instinctive primary fear through new understanding. The following paragraph is a good example of this.
The anatomy of anxiety
Before I explain why you become “anxious”, I will, first of all, explain the anatomy of how your stress system works.
The amygdala is our primitive mind and it goes back as far as we go back and it has the intelligence of a five or six-year-old child (let’s say for convenience).
Primitive thinking (the cognition of the amygdala)
The thinking of the amygdala is primitive thinking. We are not the only species involved in thinking. We tend to associate cognition with imagination, language and imagery but the more primitive thinking happens outside our conscious awareness.
There are a number of ways your experiences can trigger the amygdala to create the fight or flight response. You often hear people saying that they get anxiety or panic attacks for no reason, this is not the case.
Anxiety can be best described as an adrenalin / fearful thinking loop. So, both thinking and the physical symptoms of a heightened release of adrenalin are present.Anxiety is a normal reaction when a person is under threat. The physical symptoms are normal as is the need to take flight. It is nature’s way of keeping us safe.