What is anxiety?
BY Added Health Editorial Team | 26 May 2023
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that needn’t completely derail us.
Fear is a normal human response to threat. It’s very useful if we are being chased by a bear in the forest as it helps us to fight back or to run. After the threat has passed our bodies return to normal. In our modern world however, we are afraid responses not of bears in the forest but of e-mails, phone calls, failure, or social embarrassment, and our bodies never have the chance to return to a relaxed state. This is anxiety, which is a very unpleasant feeling. Anxiety symptoms can last for some time — going on for a couple of weeks or even longer, sometimes persisting in the background of our day to day lives.
Anxiety arises when we ruminate about the past, or when we imagine difficulties in our own future or in the world in general. Anxious thoughts can also be related to our relationships with others, or to how we imagine others perceive us. Specific triggers of anxiety can be unconscious, so we might not realise immediately where it is coming from. With practice and patience, we can learn to recognise the feelings and triggers and learn to develop healthy coping strategies.
Some people worry that the physical symptoms of anxiety, like a fast heartbeat, are signs of a serious health problem. Although the sensation of anxiety is unpleasant, this emotional state does not itself cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, stomach ulcers and the like. Indeed, the fear of symptoms can make us even more anxious, which creates a cycle of anxiety.
What causes anxiety?
Can you feel anxiety right now? If so, stop, and take a few moments to reflect on this. Where do you feel it in your body? Now ask yourself “what am I afraid of? What am I worried about?“
How can we start to help ourselves?
Below we have highlighted several ways in which we can help ourselves here:
Practice relaxation techniques
Get enough sleep
Eat a balanced diet
Limit caffeine and alcohol
Minimise screen time
instead of worrying about the future. Meditation is a great way to develop mindfulness and has proven benefits in reducing anxiety and stress.
Challenge negative thoughts
The take-home message
Ferrari, M. et al. (2019) ‘Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTS’, Mindfulness, 10(8), pp. 1455–1473. doi:10.1007/s12671-019-01134-6.