Anxiety is a word many of us understand intuitively. We tend to associate it with worry and stress. In clinical terms however it is described as an unpleasant state experienced as apprehension, nervousness, uneasiness and distress. It is associated with a heightened arousal of the senses and an increased activation of the reflexes and nervous system. People with anxiety often appear jumpy, jittery, afraid, nervous, and not relaxed or comfortable.
Anxiety probably has its origins in evolution and development where it paid well to be extra-aware of predators or always ready for flight or fight. We see lots of examples of these behaviours in other mammals, especially herd animals like deer, antelope, or zebra, meerkats, typically skittish animals that are quick to react to threats or easily frightened into hiding or running away. This behaviour would have been their best defense against being attacked by predators.
Anxiety seems to connect to fear but it is different. Fear typically has an object, something it is directly related to or focused on. Anxiety can be directed at something in particular but it can also be diffuse or free-floating.
Anxiety however can lead to changes in habits and behaviours. Anxious people will often avoid stressful situations or places. These people may believe that they are managing their anxiety by simply avoiding the stressors or the people or places that cause them to be anxious. This avoidance technique does not ‘solve’ the problem however, in fact it actually maintains the problem.
More importantly when anxiety continues to affect a person it will inevitably reduce their self-confidence. These losses can make recovery even more difficult.
When anxiety gets out of control or becomes overwhelming for the person then real difficulties begin to show up. This is when we describe anxiety as really problematic.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a common diagnosis for anxiety. The person experiences ‘inappropriate’ anxiety, often so frequently that it feels more or less constant. The anxiety is so prolonged that the person has often forgotten when it first began or whether it related to a specific worry or object in the first place. It can be treated with medication.
Personality plays a role in how we each experience anxiety. Certain personality traits are innate and some are learned. Some people are naturally cautious and easily triggered to be very aware of their surroundings and other people around them. Sometimes this is driven by an adrenaline response or a hyper-sensitivity to things like loud noises or changes.
In psychodynamic therapy, anxiety is explained as a conflict within the mind. The unconscious wants something to happen but the conscious mind has concerns about it. If the unconscious desire became a reality then it might upset the balance. This could also be interpreted as a clash between the id and the ego. The person might feel a lot of uncertainty and doubt around the issue, leading to a lack of confidence which makes the overall problem much worse. The psychotherapist will help the patient discover the conflict and understand the ‘unconscious’ desire and the issues or conflicts around it.
It can be very important to recognise that increased anxiety can cause serious reductions in
confidence. Anxiety also causes losses in self-esteem and self-efficacy. This can be a vicious downward spiral for a person. The loss of confidence becomes contagious and affects other parts of the person’s life, including work, socialising, going out and most importantly it affects relationships.
In our next blog post we will continue our discussion on Anxiety and focus on Treatments for Anxiety. Keep an eye on our blog and social media platforms.
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