Anxiety

Anxiety Explained

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

A woman with her head in her heads looking stressed, anxious

The Importance of Understanding Anxiety

Many people are familiar with the term anxiety and have an idea of what anxiety means. However, some people may not completely understand what anxiety is; or, think they know what it is, but are not quite sure (and maybe mistaken in how they would define it). 

It is important that people have an accurate understanding of what anxiety is so that they are able to identify times in which they, themselves are anxious, and so they can identify when others around them may be anxious. Going even further, it is beneficial for people to know what may cause anxiety so that they can be more adequately prepared for when they are in these possible anxiety-provoking situations. 

Defining Anxiety

To begin, it is crucial to have an accurate working definition of anxiety. Anxiety has been characterized by:

  • Feelings of worry
  • Feelings of unease
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • May occur prior to an imminent event
  • May occur concerning an uncertain outcome
  • Often occurs in the absence of an imminent threat (whereas fear occurs in the presence of an imminent threat)

The experience of anxiety may involve only one, a few, or all of the above components. Anxiety can be further broken down into two areas, or types, of anxiety:

  • 2 Types of Anxiety
  1. Cognitive Anxiety
    • This type of anxiety involves the mental manifestations of anxiety
    • Examples include (but are not limited to): 
      1. Excessive worry
      2. Concern
      3. Difficulty concentrating
      4. Rumination
      5. Repetitive thinking
A man with an anxiety drawing behind his head
  1. Somatic Anxiety
    • This type of anxiety involves the physical manifestations of anxiety
    • Often what people refer to when thinking and describing anxiety, and often what people notice when experiencing anxiety 
    • Examples include (but are not limited to): 
      1. Sweaty palms
      2. Butterflies in stomach or upset stomach
      3. Headaches
      4. Muscle tension
      5. Dizziness

Where Does Anxiety Originate From?

It is important to realize that experiencing anxiety is a completely normal part of being human. Humans have been experiencing anxiety for thousands and thousands of years, as this feeling of anxiety is protective and has been developed through years of evolution. Anxiety is often experienced when one is not sure of the outcome of a situation. 

For years, as hunters and gatherers, humans would experience anxiety as they would be unsure of where they would get their food, where they would sleep, and about their future in general. Experiencing this anxiety would motivate them to hunt and gather food and find a safe shelter for protection. 

Over the years, the experience of anxiety is the same, and the root cause of anxiety may be similar or completely different…

An Example of Root Cause of Anxiety Being Similar

  • People may be anxious over an upcoming job interview
    • They may be unsure of where they will find employment
      • Which is necessary for acquiring adequate food and shelter

An Example of Root Cause of Anxiety Being Different

  • People may be anxious about giving a present to a friend 
    • This may be because they aren’t sure if their friend will like the present or not

Clearly, you can see the similarities and differences of the root causes of anxiety years ago as compared to now. Today, in present time, there may still be anxieties related to these basic core needs (survival), although they may present in different scenarios (preparing for a job interview). 

In addition, though, in present time there are additional situations that involve many more complex factors that may stir up the same feelings of anxiety. 

What Causes Anxiety?

A woman in a dark room hugging herself, anxiety

Anxiety is a normal human experience that almost everyone will feel at some points through their lives. But what things cause anxiety? Is there anything specific that causes anxiety and can be avoided? 

Ultimately, almost anything can cause anxiety and there is no one specific thing that causes anxiety. This is because much of anxiety depends on the perception of the individual. Some people may find certain situations anxiety-provoking, whereas other individuals will not experience any anxiety in those same situations. But, do not be alarmed as anxiety is not all bad! 

Anxiety Can Be Beneficial

The experience of anxiety in some situations can be very helpful (after all this is why anxiety has persisted through years and years of evolution – because there are benefits to it)! Anxiety can help:

  • Push us to get things done
  • Motivate us to work harder
  • Help us to prepare for alternate scenarios (creating a plan b or plan c)
  • Keep us persistent with doing tasks and checking our work

Ways of Coping with Anxiety

If you are experiencing anxiety, it may be helpful to think of what these feelings of anxiety are from. There is a chance that you can use the anxiety to your benefit, to motivate or push you to be better, or to get tasks completed. If you feel the anxiety is detrimental, there are few things you can do to cope with these feelings:

  • Reach out to a friend or family member and talk about it
  • Take deep breaths
  • Do progressive muscle relaxation
  • Practice meditation
  • Seek help from a counselor
  • Try changing how you view the anxiety, instead of saying you are anxious try saying you are excited

Most people have experienced anxiety at one point or another in their life. It is likely that this is an emotion that people will frequently experience. Having a knowledge of what this experience is and where it comes from goes a long way in understanding how to manage these feelings. With anxiety, awareness is crucial!

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