When Is Anxiety No Longer Beneficial?

And How Do You Know?

Written by Jenifer Brougham, LICSW

Anxiety: Understanding Its Roots and Remedies

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by worried thoughts, feelings of tension, and increased blood pressure. It's the body's natural response to stress, threats, or apprehension about what's to come. And it's a critical survival mechanism that dates back to our pre-ancestors. Although hard to believe from where most of us live today, we have historically been prey as a species. Lions, giant hyenas, eagles, and more ate our ancestors. Even today, there are places on Earth where humans still have a 1 in 20 chance of being killed by a python. 

The evolutionary reason for anxiety. 

For our species to survive the deadly terrain, we evolved to have sharp bursts of adrenaline while simultaneously disengaging our prefrontal cortex when we detected a threat. This burst of adrenaline often meant the ability to outrun or outmaneuver a predator. The disengagement from our prefrontal cortex, the most evolved region of our brain where reasoning and problem-solving occur, ensured our reactions to threats came from our amygdala, the more primitive part of our brain that utilizes the flight, freeze, or fight response. Thus freeing us from complex higher-order thought processes, saving us precious seconds, and often preventing us from becoming a predator's next meal. Think about it: if we stopped to contemplate which way to run, for instance, left or right, while also weighing the pros and cons of each possible decision, we might not have survived as a species.


During the hustle and bustle of modern life, anxiety is often an invisible companion for many. Understanding anxiety, its triggers, manifestations, and coping strategies is an essential step toward regaining control over one's life and achieving mental and emotional well-being.

Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind, and in our contemporary society, mild anxiety is normal and even beneficial, such as the anxiety associated with remembering to pay your mortgage, studying to ensure a good grade on an exam, or driving cautiously to prevent a car accident.

However, for many, severe anxiety often manifests in situations that aren't life-threatening, such as public speaking, social engagements, navigating demands of daily life, seemingly unsolvable problems, being overwhelmed, or even for no identifiable reason. For instance, maybe your heart races, and you feel pressure in your chest just before you attend a social event with your peers. Or perhaps your chest becomes tight, and it seems more difficult to breathe when uncertain about the outcome of a future event. Whatever the cause, when anxiety becomes severe (and a lion isn't pursuing you), it is no longer serving you.

Anxiety Symptoms:

The manifestations of anxiety can range from mild to severe and can affect both the mind and body. Psychological symptoms often include excessive worry, irritability, rumination, feelings of dread, and poor concentration. Physical symptoms can manifest as racing heartbeat, muscle tension, tightness in your chest, trouble breathing, and more. These symptoms can disrupt daily activities and relationships and decrease overall quality of life.

Other possible symptoms of anxiety:

  • difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep
  • feeling restless or on edge
  • feeling overly nervous
  • grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • nausea or a churning feeling in your stomach
  • having tense muscles
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing
  • sweating and hot flashes
  • becoming light-headed or dizzy when stressed
  • trouble concentrating on anything other than the present worry
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • having a sense of impending doom
  • fatigue
  • panic attacks

Coping Strategies: 

Overcoming anxiety sometimes involves a multi-faceted approach, which can include lifestyle changes, self-help strategies, therapy, and even medication, which can all play a vital role in mitigating and managing anxiety symptoms.

  • Relaxation and Grounding Techniques: Practices like grounding, deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can calm the nervous system and alleviate anxiety symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Regular physical activity and a healthy balanced diet can significantly improve mental health. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can also reduce anxiety levels.
  • Professional Help: Seeking the help of a therapist or counselor can provide individuals with tools and strategies to manage anxiety. For example, cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a proven method that identifies and challenges negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Medication: If non-medication options have been thoroughly explored, or the severity of anxiety is debilitating, medication can also alleviate anxiety symptoms. However, medication should only be taken under the strict supervision of a medical professional.

How to know if you should seek the help of a mental health professional?

It can be hard to know if the symptoms you are experiencing are a sign of anxiety that warrants consulting a professional. As we identified previously, severe anxiety is a normal and beneficial response to a serious threat or any dangerous situation.

In our modern society, an example of a dangerous situation that warrants a severe anxiety response might be a truck running a red light as you are approaching the same intersection. Your brain detects a threat, anxiety strikes, and you experience the burst of adrenaline that helps you come to a screeching halt to avoid a collision before you have even fully processed the situation. Hopefully, this reaction kept you safe, which is exactly what anxiety is designed to do. But if you feel that stress response kicks in when there isn't any real danger, your anxiety is no longer helpful, and it may be time to seek professional help.

A good therapist is free of judgment and can be objective when listening to challenges you face, which can go a long way toward helping you effectively problem-solve situations that may feel overwhelming or seem unsolvable.

Other signs that it might be time to talk to a mental health professional include:

  • You find it difficult to stop or control worrying
  • You have anxiety about more than one area of your life
  • You feel afraid, as if something awful might happen
  • You find that you become easily annoyed or irritable
  • You find that you are restricting your activities to avoid feeling anxious

The Good News:

If you are reading this post and have determined your anxiety is not in the healthy range and is negatively impacting your quality of life, there's good news. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. 


Anxiety is a universal experience, and it has a purpose; in fact, it's the reason we have survived as a species. While some anxiety helps you perform optimally, living in a near-constant state of anxiety is distracting at best and debilitating and paralyzing at worst. When anxious thoughts are interfering with your life and causing you significant distress, that isn't something you should chalk up to nerves and push through. It might be time to seek professional help.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue and affect 40 million adults. Yet, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment even though it is highly treatable. With the proper support and tools, it can be managed and mitigated. A skilled professional can guide you, teach you skills that will help immediately lower your anxiety levels, and then help uncover the root of your anxiety. With professional help, self-care, and sometimes medication, those grappling with even the most severe anxiety can navigate and lead fulfilling lives, unencumbered by a constant shadow of worry and fear. The journey towards an anxiety-free life begins with acknowledging the issue, taking action, and seeking the appropriate help and support when needed.

Need Help Determining If You Might Benefit from Professional Help?

Female Skills Based Therapist for Anxiety and Overwhelm, Women's Counselor, Anxiety Therapist Alabama, Anxiety Therapist Florida, Skills Based

About The Author

Jenifer Brougham is a licensed independent social worker and co-founder of ReasonThink, LLC. When she’s not serving her clients, she geeks out on board games, spends time with family and friends, dreams of scuba diving trips, and obsesses over all things productivity.