Nerves and stress: what is anxiety for?

Don’t lose your cool!

It is generally thought that “nerves” are like little demons which, when overfed, make our life hell. In fact, in popular parlance, the message “don’t lose your temper” is conveyed, which means “calm down, don’t get angry”. And it is that this advice would be very correct if it were not for the fateful interpretation which was given to it.

Really, if we take “don’t lose your nerves” as what it really means, and not as a frightening interpretation of what will happen if we lose them (if we are not calm), there would be a lot less anxiety issues and of course that even more popular goal of “being happy” would be closer..

What are nerves?

Beyond the philosophical or linguistic analysis, it is important that we have a clear idea of ​​what these “nerves” of which we speak so often, and especially of how nerves influence our daily functioning. This is why we will approach it under the term Activation.

First, this negative connotation must be attacked. These nerves refer to the level of mental, physiological and emotional activation, which results in specific behaviors that act by trying to moderate this level, always depending on the particular task.

This concept has a lot to do in clinical psychology with anxiety, stress or fear. A fundamental characteristic of anxiety is the high activation, both physiological and emotional that the person experiences. Thus, we see how the three terms (anxiety, stress, or fear) are nothing more than different representations of strong activation.

Types of nerves

This is an important point. Chatting with our partner isn’t the same for us as the nerves we feel when taking an exam or reacting to fear of running away from a rabid dog. That is why we say that it is the task that determines what kind of activation and what level we should have. With reference to the types of activation, we should know that our “nerves” act on the basis of two mechanisms.

  • a appetizing or approximate, Which activates in relation to the positive emotions and behaviors that we like (like that excitement we feel when we score a goal, or when we try to achieve a professional goal).
  • a defense or avoidance, Linked to threats or situations that displease us (examples would be the behavior of flight or survival to a threat, flight from a danger, the fight against a threat …).

Is it good to be very active?

Of course, it can be. This activation, as we mentioned, is useful or necessary depending on the task. Taking the examples from before, a much larger activation is useful if we are to evade a threat than if we are trying to pass an exam. Moreover, the very existence of this activation is necessary to face the daily challenges. It is not necessarily bad. Unless we decide for ourselves.

Likewise, with regard to this positive activation, there will also be a differential need for improving the time it took us to run a mile, than to receive a kiss (remember that positive activation does not only involve positive emotions, but behaviors that help us or approach this source of activation, as in the case of goal).

Reinterpreting anxiety to live better

What is the real problem? In other words, that is to say Why is the message not to lose your temper, not to have high activation, always given? Obviously there are some situations where strong activation is not helpful, but what if it is? There is no need to fear the adrenaline rush in the body, let alone the consequences; yet no one has become a muscular green monster.

At the clinical level, here is an important problem: the subjective evaluation we make of our activation and the consequences it will have. The most debilitating component of anxiety has been shown to be not the physiological or physical component, but the mental component.

Relax. There are techniques to regulate this activation, calls, which are worth redundancy, deactivation techniques, among which muscle relaxation, meditation or relaxation in the imagination. And they can be used when this activation becomes unnecessary.

But before we get there, relativize. Nothing happens to lose the nerves, even less if they are positive nerves. We are giving this positive excitement a chance. We give our body a chance to express itself as well. Maybe he wants to tell us something.

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