What is Anxiety?

Oct 27, 2020

In 1936, the pioneering endocrinologist Hans Selye defined stress as the “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”(1) In the decades since then, we have learned a lot more about what happens in our bodies when we feel stressed and recover from stress. Among other things, we know that anxiety is a constant, uncontrollable stress response, where we feel like we are in imminent danger even if no danger is present.

The effects of chronic stress on our health are profound. Researchers have linked ongoing stress to a number of diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even various cancers. Anxiety is a complex emotional state, a combination of feelings of fear and thoughts of worry. It is often accompanied by instability or tension and associated with apprehensive anticipation of a future threat.

Anxiety is actually a normal and adaptive natural human emotion, but constant and higher levels of persistent anxiety can cause abnormal behaviors and become pathological. Anxiety disorders are among the most common classes of mental disorders.

Physical symptoms of anxiety include having difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue, sweating, headaches, lightheadedness, digestive problems such as diarrhea and nausea, wobbly “jelly” legs, restlessness, trembling, insomnia, hyperthermia, and dizziness. Mental symptoms include racing thoughts, inability to set aside worry, unwanted thoughts, lack of concentration, hypervigilance, and irritability. Responses to sound, temperature changes, crowds, movement, bright or flickering lights—and other sensory stimuli—may be out of proportion to the impact of the event. This may make us want to run and hide. Mind and body are one and “feed” each other, so thoughts can lead to physical changes, and physical changes can lead to anxious thoughts.

Anxiety is involved in many psychiatric disorders, including depression, phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress. Anxiety most often goes hand in hand with depression due to the overlap of symptoms of both disorders. As a consequence, for those with anxiety, there is a worsening in quality of life. (2) Behaviorally, anxiety can lead to substance abuse as individuals attempt to numb themselves to their feelings: everything from overeating to alcohol and drug abuse.

Eating to protect your brain is a critical strategy in addressing anxiety and other emotional and mental conditions. You may even feel relief immediately. Science has shown us that if our brain chemistry is right, it will work with equilibrium—meaning, without anxiety. Address the nutritional deficiencies in the body, fix the brain chemistry, and a human body won’t suffer from constant anxiety.

Read more about this in my new book, “Anxiety Free with Food.”



1.     “What Is Stress?” American Institute of Stress (accessed May 11, 2020), https://www.stress.org/what-is-stress.

2.   R.M. Hirschfeld, “The Comorbidity of Major Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Recognition and Management in Primary Care,” Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vol. 3, no. 6 (December 2001), pp. 244–54, doi: 10.4088/pcc.v03n0609.