What Is Anxiety?

Natural remedies for anxiety Photo courtesy of HealthlineOpens in new window

Nearly everyone feels anxiety, at least in small degrees, nearly every day (hesitancy to approach a stranger due to fear of rejection, worries about money, concerns about what others think, etc.). Anxiety is a universal human experience and is among the most basic of emotionsOpens in new window.

Anxiety is a vague feeling of apprehension, uneasiness, or dread resulting from a real or perceived threat; it is a response to external or internal stimuli that can have behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical symptoms.

Differences Between Anxiety & Fear

FearOpens in new window is a reaction to a specific danger, whereas anxiety is a vague sense of dread related to an unspecified or unknown danger. However, the body reacts physiologically in similar ways to both anxiety and fear.

Another important distinction between anxiety and FearOpens in new window is that anxiety affects us at a deeper level. It invades the central core of the personality and erodes feelings of self-esteem and personal growth.

While FearOpens in new window is a cognitive process, anxiety is an emotional one. Fear involves the intellectual appraisal of threatening stimulus, anxiety involves the emotional response to that appraisal.

The term anxiety is often used interchangeably with the word stressOpens in new window. However, they are not the same. Stress or more properly, a stressor, is an external pressure that is brought to bear on the individual. Anxiety is the subjective emotional response to the stressor.

Normal anxiety which provides the motivation for achievement (described as “a necessary force for survival”) is considered healthy. Healthy anxiety is an alerting signal: it warns of threat, external or internal and it is probably life saving, more than once in a lifetime.

Anxiety provides the energy needed to carry out the tasks involved in living and striving toward goals. Anxiety also motivates people to make and survive change. It prompts constructive behaviors, such as studying for an examination, being on time for a job interview, preparing for a presentation, and working toward a promotion.

Anxiety is usually considered a normal reaction to a realistic dagner or threat to biological integrity or self concept. Since it is beneficial for a person to respond with anxiety to certain threatening situations, one can distinguished normal healthy anxiety from abnormal or pathological anxiety.

Pathological anxiety is an inappropriate response to a given stimulus, by virtue of either its intensity or duration. The complete absence of anxiety is just as pathological as excessive anxiety.

Normal anxiety dissipates when the perceived danger or threat is no longer present. Symptoms of pathological anxiety varies between individuals but typically include irrational fear, dread, depression, and substance abuse. But with early detecton, the symptoms can be treated.

  1. Bourne, E.J. (2005). The anxiety and phobias workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
  2. Elliott, C.H., & Smith, L.L. (2002). Overcoming anxiety for dummies. New York: John Wiley.
  3. Ohman, A. (2008). Fear and anxiety. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 709 – 729). New York: Guilford.