Mental Health

Anxiety: What Is It?

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Adapted from http://www.apa.org/

Anxiety isn’t mysterious: it is a natural response to uncertainties in the world. But it is easily misunderstood, and commonly stigmatized. If we tell others that ‘I suffer from anxiety’, others will commonly translate it as ‘my self-management skills is inferior’ or ‘I have extreme shyness’.

Adapted from http://www.sayfc.org/

Fear vs Anxiety

Fear deals with the present. When we encounter a real or immediate threat in the present, our brains tell our bodies to ‘hold it’ and ‘be careful’. That is fear.

Our senses identify a clear source of danger, and instantly cues our body and nervous system to enter the ‘fight or flight’ mode.

Adapted from https://media.npr.org/

Anxiety is similar to fear, with a key difference.

It is targeted towards the future, and it is a mixture of our emotions and thoughts. In short, we become anxious when we perceive a future threat (real or perceived).

We become anxious because we can use memories of the past to model/guess a future scenario. Therefore, we can respond according to our predictions.

For example: Let’s say you have an exam tomorrow, and you haven’t prepared for it. You feel uncomfortable when anticipating the test, as you know that you will suffer a lot if you fail. This mixture of discomfort and anticipation is anxiety.

Adapted from http://www.jonathanherron.com/

What does it mean?

So what is the relationship between fear and anxiety? Here’s a possibility.

We might become anxious because we memorized past fear responses. As a result, the fearful response (natural or learned) develops into an anxiety. And this makes a person able to anticipate and deal with a potential threat.

Adapted from https://image.slidesharecdn.com/

When is anxiety abnormal?

But when is it significant enough to warrant clinical diagnosis? When is it abnormal?

Basically, when it interferes with normal functioning. Then it is abnormal. There is a variety of anxiety disorders documented on the DSM. But what all of them have in common is that they are all uncontrollable, which lowers our sense of self-control, making us unable to participate in daily activities.

In conclusion, let’s wrap up with four of the most common anxiety disorders. They include: 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): excessive worry due to constantly living in a future oriented mood state.

Social Anxiety Disorder: excessive fear of being judged negatively in social situations.

Specific Phobias: crippling fear towards a specific stimuli (object or situation), ranging from animals to physical environments.

Panic Disorder: involves frequent panic attacks, surges of intense fear as a result of un-cued activation of the fight or flight response.

Adapted from https://img.buzzfeed.com/

 

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Jia Yue Tan
JY is a counselling trainee at Monash University Malaysia under the Master of Professional Counselling program and writes psychology articles to procrastinate from his counselling paperwork and assignments. His interests are in individual differences, psychotherapy, and helping the public understand psychology(s) as a profession. Occasionally reviews books and promote person-centered psychotherapy.

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