Predatory Imminence Theory: Is Anxiety Useful?

The theory of predatory imminence indicates that anxiety allows defenses to be activated. This would be good for survival, but dangerous if the system goes haywire.

Last update: February 18, 2022

Anxiety is characterized by excessive, persistent, and future-oriented worry. Sometimes it is useful, since it allows you to act in time. However, not everything is rosy; when their intensity and duration are disproportionate, they affect the quality of a person. This is part of what the theory of predatory imminence tells us.

This theory was proposed by Fanselow and Lester. It addresses an explanation of anxiety as a fundamental construct.

What does the predatory imminence theory propose?

This theoretical proposal has a biological and phylogenetic basis that explains how humans adapt to different situations of danger. Since we are living beings, we are potential prey for other living beings.

Therefore, it is necessary to find adequate responses to different situations that guarantee our survival. One of these responses is anxiety. So, sometimes, it is functional and adaptive.

There are different responses to threats, depending on the perception of risk that has. While in some cases tranquility reigns because no danger is noticed, in others it will be necessary to activate to avoid an unwanted situation. Between both extremes there are different situations.

Depending on the assessment of predatory imminence, defenses and emotional responses such as anxiety, fear, panic or stress are activated:

  • During a pre-encounter situation, when such a close danger is not valued, the response is one of anxiety, with a cautious approach.
  • During a post-encounter situation there is an activation of reinforcements and fear as the predominant emotion.
  • Finally, when the danger is imminent and realthe response is panic, the defense is of the type circa strike or “next to attack” and attempts to attack or escape are made.
Fear has an adaptive function to stimulate defense and survival strategies.

What if the answer is exaggerated?

In the circumstances outlined above, the three emotional responses are appropriate at the moment and allow the defense to be motorized. Projecting the theory beyond this area, it is possible to think that the answers tend to become stereotyped and apply to multiple situations.

In this case, these are defensive measures that have become dysfunctional. They are applied in autopilot and not in the light of a concrete circumstance.

When anxiety is excessive, it begins to transcend a specific area or topic so that the concern is for different things. In general, a very typical question of the anxious picture predominates: what would happen if..? multiple triggers thoughts that keep you anxious and alert.



How does the predatory imminence theory relate to anxiety?

The theory of predatory imminence is related to anxiety because it anticipates the future, so that It serves as a defense measure to prepare. In this sense, the idea that anxiety is functional and adaptive is reinforced.

When we deregulate ourselves and anxiety becomes commonplace, the worry will be excessive and will be amplified to multiple issues, which are unlikely to happen. However, the person values ​​them as very probable and experiences them with anguish.

Predatory imminence theory teaches us to weigh the role of anxiety. So, as a general rule to keep in mind, anxiety in its right dose is healthy and positive. On the contrary, always finding ourselves on the defensive and on alert overactivates us and wears us out.

Although it has been around forever, anxiety is known as the evil of the time. Since it occurs more and more frequently and has comorbidity with other types of disorders.

Anxiety has something to tell us and can function as a beacon or signal to guide us in a given situation. But it should not be that answer that we always use. It will be essential to better calibrate our alarm and circumstance evaluation system to prevent all stimuli from being considered a threat.

In many cases, behind this answer there is a complex pattern of thoughts and beliefs that guide a certain reading. So that Don’t underestimate the fact of feeling hyperaroused and anxious either..

Anxiety can affect different areas of daily life, such as work.


Neither underestimate nor overestimate anxiety

One of the ways to identify if your anxiety is harming you would be to ask yourself the following: Do I feel like I’m permanently worried, even though I wish I weren’t? Is it difficult for me to relax and let go of worries? If the answers are yes, it would be good to give you a space to work on your anxiety.

If you’re concerned about issues that most people don’t worry about, starting therapy can be a valid path. There you will learn to change those thoughts and regulate anxiety.

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