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What is Anxiety?

In order to understand anxiety, it is important to distinguish between the concept of fear and anxiety. Fear is the reaction a person experiences when there is an actual threat or an imagined threat while anxiety is the anticipation process of a future possible threat.

This is relevant because both of these experiences elicit different physiological processes. Fear triggers the autonomic nervous system (i.e., sympathetic system) creating the fight, flight or freeze response, anxiety, on the other hand, commonly causes muscle tension and hypervigilance for the upcoming threat. By knowing this, one can begin to understand the mechanisms by which anxiety operates on and thus, one can begin to formulate possible interventions to reduce anxiety at its onset (preventing a more serious reaction).

Keep in mind, anxiety can also trigger more physiological and cognitive reactions (i.e., anxious thoughts: “I am going to have a heart attack”). However, more will be discussed in what to do when more complex types of anxiety reactions are triggered. For now, it is essential that you become familiarized with the beginning stage of anxiety.

So, what is anxiety?

Anxiety can be as simple as worrying about your next mathematics exam, or as complex as developing an anxiety disorder (i.e., Generalized Anxiety Disorder [GAD]). However, it is important to remember and understand that anxiety is a normal (and common) process that everyone experiences throughout their life. In fact, we depend on anxiety to be able to stay alive.

For example, if a person was not capable of anticipating danger, that person will not be able to prepare and avoid/prevent an unpleasant event/outcome. In addition, one must be able to anticipate danger to be able to function in our daily activities.

That means, if a person did not anticipate the danger of not applying for a job, that person may face possible harsh consequences. As it may be obvious at this point, anxiety is not only a normal process but it is also essential to a person’s survival. Think of it as a mechanism that sets a person in motion to be able to complete tasks. In this way, if you feel really concerned about having anxiety, well, now you know, there is nothing wrong with having anxiety.

However, based on the information you just read, I suggest you begin changing the assumption of needing to get rid of anxiety to finding ways to cope with anxiety.

Keep in mind, this blog post only attempts to help define the concept/experience of anxiety. We are yet to explore what happens when anxiety become too high and begins to affect our functioning.

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