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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Stone, LMHC

Anxiety as a Threat Response

I had my eyes dilated nearly three hours ago for a routine eye exam (and they're still this dilated now!). Due to the dilation, my vision flip-flopped; I couldn't see close up while I could see better at a distance. For my vision, it's usually the other way around so it was disorienting for me. Of course, I also had the expected light sensitivity which sucks when you're trying to function during the daytime.

It made me think, though... It's funny how our brains and bodies work. Pupil dilation allows more light in so we can see better in low light; and the opposite is true when our pupils constrict. When healthy (and untampered) eyes function appropriately, our pupils naturally dilate or constrict based on environmental stimuli that our brain rapidly processes and responds to in order to protect our vision.

This made me think of anxiety. Fight, flight, or freeze are common responses to perceived threats to our survival (such as an attack or other harmful event). When a threat is detected, the brain rapidly processes information and stimuli and initiates the body's complex full-body threat response beginning with the amygdala in the brain.

When our threat-o-meter (if you will) is functioning appropriately, our brain and body reacts to help protect us from danger. When our threat-o-meter is overactive, however, it may perceive things as threats which may not be "real" threats to our survival. This can lead to anxiety which can be disorienting, overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting.

While there are many reasons why anxiety can develop, it often involves an overactive threat-o-meter. We can overcome anxiety and correct our threat-o-meter through different strategies which can be learned through counseling, such as grounding, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and trauma treatment.



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