What is Anxiety?


Anxiety, in the simplest of terms, is a general name for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, worrying and typical conditions like these. Anxiety is also known as angst or worry.

Insomnia - What is AnxietyAll of us confront anxiety of varying degrees depending on the situation the anxiety is being caused of. Anxiety affects how you feel and behave. It is often a psychological and physiological state accompanied by various physical symptoms like reddening of cheeks/ears, sweating, shivering etc. Anxiety is also associated with feelings of restlessness, fatigue, problems in concentrating, and tension in the muscles. You would experience an ongoing worry and tension, have an unrealistic view of the problems and even feel edgy about anything.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion which every one of us experiences at certain times and in certain situations. Anxiety occurs when your reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation. We often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as college examination, test, debate, public speaking, recital, job interview, problem at work, before making an important decision. These feelings are easily justified and are considered totally normal.

Is Anxiety and Fear the Same?

You should, however, not confuse anxiety with fear, as fear is more of a dreaded feeling about something, which appears intimidating and can overcome a person. Fear is concrete (a real danger of something), whereas anxiety is a paranoia of something in your environment that seems frightening but may not be such, and in many cases, may not even be present out there.

Moreover, your fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is related to situations which you perceive as out of control or inescapable.

When Anxiety does become a Dilemma?

While most of us, or rather all of us, experience anxiety on different occasions in our lives as a common reaction to real or perceived threats of all kinds, most of us do not develop long term problems with anxiety. When someone does develop chronic or severe problems with anxiety, such problems are usually classified as being one or more of the specific types of anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is considered a problem when these symptoms interfere with your ability to sleep or carry out other daily functions. Anxiety disorder is a serious mental illness. People who suffer from anxiety disorders consistently and overwhelmingly remain under crippling worry and fear.

All abnormal and pathological anxiety is classified under the blanket term “anxiety disorder“. These conditions come under the aegis of psychiatry. Studies and surveys reflect that more than 17% of the American population may be affected by either one or the other form of anxiety.

How does Anxiety affects your Body?

Anxiety can take several form viz. phobia, social anxiety, and obsessive–compulsive–post traumatic stress. This could result in heart palpitations, muscle weakness and tension, nausea, fatigue, headache; shortness of breath, stomach aches etc. Your heart rate, blood pressure and perspiration is also increased and your digestive functions and immune system of your body are also repressed.

Insomnia -  Anxiety affects your Body

You could also exhibit some external physical signs of anxiety that could include sweating and trembling. Even your pupils (eyes) would also appear to be dilated.

Anxiety can also have some emotional effects upon you. You may have feelings of apprehension or dread, trouble in concentrating, feeling tense, anticipating the worse, restlessness etc. You also might constantly be watching/waiting for the signs of danger and you may start to feel that your mind has gone totally blank.

Anxiety has some cognitive effects too upon you. These may include thoughts about suspected dangers, most common being the fear of dying. You may fear that your headache could be happening due to a tumor in your heart and the tumor might burst anytime causing death to you. Or you may start feeling the slight redness in your eyes could result in your losing your precious eyesight. When you suffer from acidity and burning sensation in your stomach and chest, you then might start thinking that this is happening due to some ulcer in your stomach which will ultimately take your life. During such situations you would feel intense fear of dying, and you would find it hard to pull such unwarranted fears out of your mind.

Anxiety could have some behavioral effects too, the commonest of which could be your withdrawal from situations which have resulted in provoking anxiety in you in the past.

Why Does Anxiety Happen?

A huge amount of research has been done on the condition of human anxiety. From these researches it has been explained that increased anxiety serves the purpose of increased vigilance regarding potential threats in our environment as well as the increased tendency to take proactive actions regarding such possible threats. Anxiety may cause false positive reactions in you, but due to these false reactions chances are that you may also be able to avoid real threats. You must have also noticed that people who are anxious to a great extent, are less likely to die due to accidents!

So, you can say that anxiety is a protective mechanism too, which has been designed to prevent us or any other organism on this planet, from engaging in potentially harmful behaviors/activities.

Anxiety can sometimes be caused due to some underlying health issues like heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) etc.

Anxiety Types

Anxiety disorders can be classified into several specific types, which are being explained in brief here:

Test and Performance Anxiety: I can bet on this, that all readers of this article (and that includes me too) have experienced this commonest form of anxiety at some point of our lives. This type of anxiety is the uneasiness, apprehension or nervousness felt by us whenever we fear of failing an exam or a test. We fear that if we do not get good grades then we might face embarrassment by our teacher(s); we might be alienated from our parents and friends and such other feelings.

This kind of anxiety could also result from the time pressures of our work or when we have a feeling of a loss of control at work. Test and performance anxiety could cause sweating, dizziness, increased heart rate, drumming our desks etc. The fear of failing at a task and being negatively evaluated for failure also results in this kind of anxiety.

A lot of debate has been carried out of this kind of anxiety that since this anxiety type hinges on fear of negative evaluation, should it not be treated as a unique anxiety disorder or whether it is a specific type of social phobia.

Insomnia - Anxiety TypesStranger and Social Anxiety: This kind of anxiety is a common developmental stage in young people while meeting or interacting with unknown persons. I think you would now remember how you used to shy away whenever your mom or dad greeted their friends in the park or in the mall who you were not seeing too often or haven’t had seen before. Then your parents would coax you to say hello to the new person. And most of the times you would try to prevent yourself of such a situation of meeting someone you didn’t knew. Remember now!

This kind of anxiety happens because we as human beings are a social species who require social acceptance. And we also dread the disapproval of others. It is this apprehension of ours of being judged by others that is the basic cause of this kind of anxiety.

As we grow up this kind of anxiety wanes away on its own. However, for some of us it remains in varying degree and severity. In severe cases it can lead to a fear of interacting with unfamiliar people altogether. People can also restrict their lifestyles to accommodate the anxiety, minimizing social interactions whenever possible.

This kind of anxiety also forms the core aspect of certain personality disorders like Avoidant Personality Disorder etc.

Generalized Anxiety: It is also known as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) this results from overwhelming anxiety and is identified by symptoms of exaggerated and excessive worry, chronic anxiety and constant irrational thoughts. These irrational thoughts are difficult to control and they can cause serious mental anguish interfering in your normal, daily functioning.

GAD is established when a person experiences chronic anxiety and excessive worry on daily basis, for at least six months. This anxiety could be due to a number of stress causing factors either at school/college, work and even home. The person also experiences 3 or more defined symptoms, including restlessness, being easily fatigued, mind going blank, irritability, sleep disturbance etc.

If you are suffering from GAD, you would often feel afraid and worry about health, money, family, work or school, but you will have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries.

If the symptoms of chronic anxiety are not taken care of and treated during adolescence then the person significantly runs the risk of developing anxiety disorder in adulthood. This can even lead to depression.

GAD is treated through specialized therapies aimed at changing the thinking pattern of the affected person thereby reducing the anxiety producing behaviors.

Choice or Decision Anxiety: Hmmm… this is also one of the common anxieties being faced by us in these times. An endless number of choices are available to us for all our things, but we are short of time too to consider our options. This scenario results in anxiety not only for individuals but for organizations too. It is quite difficult to choose between similar options.

The first form refers to a choice in which there are multiple potential outcomes with known or calculable probabilities. The second form refers to the uncertainty and ambiguity related to a decision context in which there are multiple possible outcomes with unknown probabilities.

Paradoxical Anxiety: This kind of anxiety arises from the use of methods or techniques which are being used to reduce anxiety, like relaxation or meditation techniques or the use of certain medicines. You would worry about the effectiveness of your treatment on your anxiety. This anxiety type can be taken care of by controlling your mind and diligently following your treatment regimen.

How to Treat Anxiety Disorders?

Due to the ongoing research on anxiety disorders, much progress has been made in the last 2 decades in the treatment of people with anxiety disorders. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the type of disorder being faced, the treatment to cure anxiety disorders would include one or more of the following therapies:

Anti–depressants and anxiety reducing drugs are the are used to reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

To address the emotional response to mental illness, counseling like psychotherapy is also used. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help you by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.

Insomnia - Anxiety Treatments

A type of psychotherapy, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also widely used to treat people suffering from chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders. In this you would learn to recognized and change his/her thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings.

Anxiety is also controlled through bringing–in changes to your dietary habits and to your lifestyle. You would be asked to limit or totally forgo your caffeine intake. You would also be directed towards more positive thinking.

Hypnotherapy has also proved quite helpful in the treatment of general anxiety, phobias and post–traumatic stress disorders.

Certain relaxation therapies like meditation, deep breathing and yoga are also helpful in treating your anxiety and they can make a world of difference to your life.

Aromatherapy is also very good at control your anxiety. Surrounding yourself with the right essences can really help reduce anxiety. Lavender is said to be the most effective, but other essential oils that can help with anxiety include jasmine, rose, sandalwood and melissa. You can enjoy aromatherapy either in a bath, or burn the oils while you rest and relax.

Many traditional herbal remedies are also available for anxiety. These remedies have been used for centuries in many parts of the world. Some of the common and widely used herbs to treat anxiety are Kava, Passion flower, Magnolia bark etc.

So, if you have been noticing yourself being too much anxious without any valid reason, it would be better to straightaway take the remedial course using some of the above mentioned alternative therapies. I am sure they would help you a lot in overcoming and controlling your anxiety. If they do not prove useful (which I think otherwise), then you should visit a doctor and seek professional advice.

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