What you feel as anxiety is the body’s fight or flight responseto external stimuli as perceived by your thought. This is veryimportant: Anxiety is not a bad thing per se. Anxiety makes you moreperceptive to your threat, more focused, and more physically able torespond to that threat. Anxiety and rage cause the same physiologicalresponse: Increases in cortisoland adrenaline. Actually, increases in cortisol potentiate the releaseof adrenaline. This physiology responds directly to thought. Adrenalineincreases your metabolism providing more energy for muscular activity,allowing greater strength and endurance, as well as allowing cortisolto repair and mitigate bodily damage. Adrenaline also causes moredirected focus, and minimizes your reaction to potential externaldistractions so you can focus on the threat. In humans, this anxietyresponse takes on even more importance. Our increased cognitivefunction means that our survival instinct is not just animalistic, sothe stress response gives you greater focus to intellectual activitiestoo.
However, some people have higher than normal cortisol levels, sothey have “mild” anxiety all the time. This higher baseline means theperson’s normal state of existence is more anxious than the averageperson. This has some benefits: It makes it less necessary for aninitiation of the fight/flight response, so you get the added cognitivebenefits of greater focus all the time. Until recently, this was a bigbonus, and there was little time to relax and be calm. Life used to behard. Females may also have higher than normal cortisol as this wouldprovide greater vigilance in child rearing. Human females are oftenmuch more hypervigilant for their children than other mammals.
It is the increase in adrenaline that causes the jitters associatedwith anxiety, and adrenaline increases in response to cortisolincreases. Cortisol levels rise in response to lessened (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid) GABA-1 receptor activation.GABA is the endogenous substance that binds to these receptors. Drugssuch as diazepam are GABA-1 agonists, i.e. they bind to that receptorand activate its designed function. Antagonists bind to the receptor,but prevent other drugs or endogenous substances from binding to thesite. Alcohol also binds to GABA receptor sites, but more to the particular ones involved with thought, which is why alcohol impairs cognition so much more.
GABA rises in response to mu-1 opioid receptor agonists. Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides created by the hypothalamus,the “primitive” part of the mammalian brain, known to be involved withpain/pleasure and thought. Other endorphins bind with other opioidreceptors to mediate respiration, bowel movement, and other basicfunctions. Sexual orgasm releases pleasure-inducing endorphins, as wellas strenuous physical activity, pain, eating, and happy thoughts.Opium, morphine, heroin, and other derivatives work because they bindwith the same receptors (thus the name opioid receptors) – morphineactually bind indiscriminately to all receptors. Opioids inpharmaceutical use today are not mu-1 site specific, so they causerespiratory suppression and relaxed bowel movement. In addition tobeing powerful anti-anxiety agents, they are effective for treatingcoughs and diarrhea. As a drawback, overdoses can lead your respirationto cease causing death, and regular use will cause constipation.
Amphetamineswork in calming people because they are structurally similar toadrenaline, and bind to the same adrenal receptor sites. This tricksthe whole stress response system, by making your body think there isalready enough adrenaline.
All neuroreceptors become hyposensitive with continued exposure toagonists, meaning more will be required to exert the same effect. Thereis some evidence that continued exposure to large doses ofneuroreceptor agonists cause the brain to reduce the number of receptorsites. After a prolonged period of agonist activity, neuroreceptorsbecome hypersensitive when the agonist is removed, or an antagonist isintroduced. An antagonist binds to the receptor but does not activatethem and prevent agonists from binding to the site.
So what does this mean for you? The easiest and safest thing to do: Induce endogenous opioid release. The healthiest way to do this: Work out on a daily basis, doing anaerobic activity like weight lifting. Eating heavily is a popular alternative, but can be detrimental to your health. Frequent sex can help a lot, too – e.g., many people feel sad after ending a sexual relationship because of reducing opioid levels.
If those options are not effective to you, the aforementioned drugs can be prescribed. Or you can buy liquor. Diazepam and other benzodiazepines are very effective, by blocking the increase in cortisol in response to stress. Anti-cortisol drugs are also in the works, and will be out sooner rather than later. If you live outside the United States, over the counter codeineproducts available from your pharmacist are pretty effective too.(Codeine is an opioid metabolized by your liver into morphine.) If youare in the United States, it is unlikely opioids will be an option,unless you buy them on the black market. Of all these options,excessive eating or alcohol consumption are the most dangerous and willaffect your health to your detriment. Pharmaceutical gradebenzodiazepines and opioids are safe at recommended dosage.