What is Anxiety?

When it comes to the different emotions that are experienced, anxiety is one that is often misunderstood or too closely associated with fear. While fear is best characterized as the response to a threat either real or perceived, anxiety is more along the lines of uneasiness, tension and worry that results in an overreaction to situations either real or imagined.

Anxiety can stem from a number of situations that often have a past or perhaps are founded in a perceived threat or situation that creates the symptoms of this particular emotion.

Symptoms of Anxiety

There are a number of symptoms that are associated with anxiety and no two people have the exact same reaction. However, they all stem from feelings of what is perceived as a future threat.

  • Nervous behavior
  • Pacing
  • Ruminations
  • Muscular tension
  • Restlessness
  • Issues with concentration
  • Fatigue and more

Each of these symptoms on their own are not sure signs of anxiety, but generally speaking someone who is anxious will experience one or more of these symptoms. Plus, the issues with concentration are generally because of the obsession over the perceived threat that they believe will occur. For example, a person who is anxious because they believe their bosses will fire them will actually be focused on those feelings to the detriment of concentrating on the task at hand.

Almost everyone will experience anxiety in one form or another over their lives. However, for most people it is simply a temporary condition that goes away in a short period of time with no treatment necessary. Of course, for some people anxiety becomes a disorder that cannot be overcome by the individual alone and will require some form of treatment.

Different Types of Anxiety 

There are numerous types of anxiety that a person may experience over their lifetimes which include the following;

  • Existential
  • Somatic
  • Test & Mathematical
  • Stage fright
  • Stranger
  • Social Anxiety
  • Psychiatric
  • Choice

Social anxiety is fear of being in certain situations among the general public while somatic refers to a feeling commonly described as butterflies in the stomach. However, all of these types of anxiety boil down to the concern or worry about a potential threat either real or imagined in the future. Anxiety comes down to whether it is a state that is short term or a trait that is long term which is the most important factor in determining whether treatment is needed.

Causes of Anxiety

There are numerous causes that can be cited for anxiety that is both short and long term in nature. In most cases, the causes are a mixture of both environmental and genetic traits that in combination leads to the frequent experiences of anxiety.

Experiences: Common causes for anxiety are rooted in family history and parents who may have rejected a child, treated them harshly or had some other negative effect that resulted in future bouts of anxiety over certain types of situations. Whether the parents’ abuse was direct in terms of physical, sexual or emotion or indirect in terms of drug or alcohol abuse that made their behavior unpredictable, the end result is a child who grows up with greater tendencies to be anxious.

Genetics: Research has demonstrated that certain infants will react in a very apprehensive and even fearful way in certain situations. This sensitivity has been demonstrated over the years to be signs of anxiety disorders. Such children tend to develop a link between their own negative views of their world and how they cope with negative feedback with feelings of anxiety.

It must be noted that not every child who exhibits genetic tendencies of anxiety or those who were abused at a young age by their parents necessarily grew up to suffer from anxiety disorders. However, experiencing one or both does tend make a person more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety as a trait.

Social & Evolutionary: Social anxiety in terms of gender as well as learning experiences have been noted over the decades. Traits such as competitiveness, independence and even self-confidence are believed to have different effects on both men and women. For those who believe they have not mastered these expected traits, they may feel a strong sense of anxiety. There are also cultural factors involved as well when it comes to social anxiety in this form.

Evolutionary anxiety causes are more along the lines of demonstrating traits in terms of vigilance when it comes to potential threats either real or imagined. This means that a person may be far more guarded when it comes to a particular activity for example. However, on the positive side such people who demonstrate this form of anxiety tend to be less involved in accidents.

Treatment for Anxiety

There is no treatment for the short bouts of anxiety that most people experience. However, for those who suffer from long term bouts there are behavioral treatments and medications that will help relieve some of the symptoms.

Behavioral treatments center on identifying the symptoms of anxiety at an early stage and training the person suffering from them to engage in alternate patterns of thinking to relieve the stress. Medications are used to ease the feelings caused by anxiety and put the person into a more relaxed state.

Overall, anxiety is a normal state that almost everyone will experience at some point in their lives. Children, teens and adults will experience occasional bouts of anxiety that is short term and in some ways can even be healthy depending on the circumstances. However, understanding the difference between normal anxiety and the trait of anxiety is important because the latter will require some form of treatment in order to stave off the ill effects. People in a prolonged state of anxiety tend to suffer more from stress which makes the vulnerable to debilitating conditions such as heart attack, strokes and the like.

The good news is that there are behavioral and medication treatments that are mostly successful in curbing the unwanted trait of anxiety. When properly diagnosed, anxiety can be treated in individuals who have suffered from the long term effects.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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