Chronic anxiety refers to the habitual, automatic ways humans react when perceiving a life-situation, most often a relationship interaction, as threatening. One may not be aware of feeling threatened. For many, this perception of threat happens below the awareness level. The individual just starts eating, drinking, smoking, feeling bored, seeking a rush, needing action - to move, change, run, argue, fight back, or the opposite - avoiding, going passive and helpless, etc. These responses are both instinctual and learned coping strategies. Unfortunately, they usually reinforce greater levels of chronic anxiety and stress.
The formation of these automatic, chronic reactions can begin, possibly in utero, but certainly at birth. The child is equipped at birth to respond to internal and external cues for surviving and thriving. When the child’s needs are met in a manner that is realistic to the facts of those needs, the child’s focus will remain primarily cued to him or herself. When the child’s needs are defined and met more out of feeling states in the caregiver, a mismatch will develop between the child’s true needs and the caretaker’s efforts to meet those needs. Parent and child behavior quickly becomes reciprocal. The child learns to focus more on the relationship process than on his or her own self. The child’s and the parent’s perceptions of need then come more from internal feeling states than what the child’s (or later, the parent’s) factual needs are. The child’s self-knowledge and self-development becomes compromised, more or less, over time. The patterns of responding to and out of relationship anxiety become automatic and chronically stressful. It affects all levels of the person’s functioning - from cellular responses in the gut or heart or skin, etc. to the psychological and social mechanisms for surviving. These learned responses contribute to the development of the short-term coping responses listed in paragraph one.