What is anxiety?
Simply put, anxiety is heightened fear.
Anxiety can be fleeting, long lasting and debilitating, or it can fall somewhere in between.
Other words that label fear are panic, nervousness, and worry. Any of these levels of fear may also be felt as, or labeled as, “stress.”
It’s important to understand fear in order to better understand and deal with anxiety and stress.
Fear warns us of danger.
Everyone feels fear sometimes, even those people who have the misconception that having fear is a sign of weakness.
All emotions are tools that let us know what is going on between us and the world. They are a source of information. Fear’s message is that there is danger to yourself or others.
Sometimes, it’s healthy to listen to the fear, because if you do the thing that stimulated the fear, you or someone else may get hurt. Sometimes, however, the fear isn’t that rational. The perceived threat may not be as dangerous as the level of fear would indicate or may in fact not be dangerous at all.
The level of fear may be an overreaction to what’s happening right now. You may be tapping into stored emotion from past related or unrelated situations. That stored emotion may be a few minutes old or many years old. Irrational fears may be based on overgeneralization (a kernel of truth is extrapolated out to cover too many circumstances) or they may be an outgrowth of dwelling on an exaggerated worst-case scenario.
It’s important to sort out whether the amount of fear felt is, or is not, proportional to the actual amount of present danger.
If we perceive a threat to be one of life or death, fear triggers the fight-or-flight response. In fight-or-flight, a physical response, for example a rush of adrenaline, joins in with the emotional one. We very quickly make a decision whether we want to stand up to the threat or retreat.
The fight-or-flight instant response is great for true emergencies. It’s a great caveman response, but most of us aren’t living the caveman life anymore. Most of us don’t need to be ever-ready for the possibility of a lion attack, but we’re often stuck in that caveman response. We often treat everything like it’s a life-or-death emergency.
When you feel fear, you would do well to ask yourself what, specifically, you are afraid of, so you can make conscious decisions how to respond. There are many advantages to being able to slow down and take time to figure out whether you are going to “fight” by talking the fear stimulus in a systematic way or take the “flight” option by thoughtfully changing course.
Emotions aren’t emergencies (most of the time). Slow down and think about what information the emotion offers rather than simply reacting.
What anxiety feels like
Anxiety is felt both physically and emotionally. (I talk about the physical and emotional symptoms more in another post: Anxiety symptoms)
Types of anxiety
Anxiety can be stimulated by specific situations or things (like crowds or spiders), or it can be experienced in a more general way.
Feeling stressed out and anxious is extremely common in modern societies. Many people would benefit from learning how to reduce their stress even if they don’t meet all the criteria for one of the official psychological anxiety disorders.
Given that, you may find it helpful to see a list of official anxiety disorders and other conditions that are commonly seen to have a strong link to anxiety.
Anxiety related disorders and conditions include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Phobias (fear of spiders, flying, heights, etc.)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Trichotillomania (hair-pulling)Disorder
- Excoriation (skin-picking)Disorder
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
- Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
As a counselor and hypnotherapist, I have helped many people get anxiety relief, overcome phobias and reduce stress. Here are some of my products that might help you feel less stress and anxiety:
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- Ann Silvers