Anxiety In New Situations

It has been shown that anxiety and the neuro-chemicals released by stress destroy neural connections. It should be kept in mind that the reverse is also true; when connections are destroyed, anxiety is created. Anxiety is necessary to re-wire the brain.

An unexpected situation demands a new action, and a new pathway in the brain. The more unexpected the situation, the greater the extent of the disruption that is necessary to forge a new path. Anxiety is needed to break down current pathways, thus people who are able to adapt will suffer anxiety in proportion to the newness, to the unexpectedness and to the difference of response demanded by a situation.

The newness, the unexpectedness, and the difference of response demanded by a situation could be quantified by a new factor. A new situation that demands a similar response to past old situations; such as marking a maths exam instead of marking an English exam for the first time, would be less stressful than a new situation that demands a new action; such as marking an spoken exam versus a written exam. A situation that demand a radically different and complex new action such as learning to land an aircraft versus learning to grill toast would create much more anxiety.

Of course, any life threatening or dangerous situation creates anxiety too, but this exists similarly to disrupt pathways to prepare for a new action. More dangerous situations simply demand more radical action, that appears to be hard-wired into humanity, but I suspect that any unexpected situation that demands rapid new action is capable of creating the same panic response.

Anxiety is minimised by experiencing existing situations that demand existing responses. The anxiety experienced in a new situation can only be minimised by gradual exposure to it, and by calculation of possible, and ultimately ideal, responses.

This is because anxiety is necessary to break down current neural connections in order to build new ones. If the correct response to the new situation is unknown, then anxiety will persist until the correct response is determined, practised and learned. At this point the situation does not cause anxiety, and is not considered to be a new situation.

Mark Sheeky, 8 February 2012