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Anxiety

Anxiety is an umbrella term for feelings of fear, nervousness, apprehensiveness, or worry. Everybody gets anxious at times and some anxiety actually helps us to function well, but anxiety can become a problem when:

  • It happens too often
  • It goes on for a long time
  • It stops us from doing things that we want to do

Why is having some anxiety a good thing?

Imagine never being anxious or nervous: how would you know how to take care of yourself? How would you know not to run across a busy road? Or to mind your footing when walking along the edge of a cliff? Or to be cautious when approaching a potentially dangerous animal? Feelings of anxiety are there to guide us to take care of ourselves.

Some people suffering from anxiety want to get rid of their anxiety completely. Although this might sound attractive it would not be a sensible plan. The graph below shows why having some anxiety is a good thing.

Our performance improves with a bit of anxiety, but gets worse if the anxiety becomes too much

What types of anxiety are there?

Psychologists make a distinctions between different types of anxiety 'disorder'. Each is characterised by a particular type of fear.

Type of Anxiety Description
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) Excessive worry about non-specific life events such as health, finances, work, or relationships. The amount of worry is normally out of proportion to the actual danger.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) An individual with OCD may have thoughts or images which are intrusive (obsessions), and may feel compelled to carry out actions to relieve the accompanying anxiety (compulsions).
Panic disorder Sudden feelings of terror and doom which may seem to occur 'out of the blue'. Attacks are typically fairly short-lived but can be re-triggered and last for longer periods.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) PTSD follows a traumatic life event where the individual felt that their life or bodily integrity was in danger, or witnessed something similar. As well as an ongoing sense of threat that lasts beyond the end of the actual danger, PTSD is accompanied by vivid memories of the event replaying in the person's mind.
Social anxiety disorder (Social phobia) A type of phobia specific to social situations. People with social phobia are afraid that other people will think badly of them (fear of negative evaluation) and so they take steps to prevent this from happening.
Specific phobia Fear of a specific object, animal, or situation. The individual may know that their fear is irrational or out of proportion. The individual tries to avoid the feared object or situation.

Anxiety worksheets

 

Anxiety can set of the 'fight or flight system' or 'threat system'. This is an automatic reaction that human (and other animals) have to make then function at their best when they are threatened or in danger.

 

Exposure is one of the most effective components of treatment for all forms of anxiety.