What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotional reaction arising from the anticipation of a real or imagined threat to the self. It can play a role of an important protective factor against harm if it is based on an accurate assessment of a threat.  However, if it is persistent, disproportionate, and premised on inaccurate appraisal of a threat, it can become maladaptive and debilitating. Anxiety is often accompanied by unwanted physical reactions such as heart palpitations, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension.

How is anxiety different form stress?

Stress is caused by an existing stress-causing factor or stressor. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or even anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another. Anxiety is stress that continues after that stressor is gone. It is a feeling of apprehension or fear and is usually accompanied by feelings of impending doom. The source of this uneasiness is not always known or recognized, which can add to the distress level.

Anxiety disorders can have many different forms. For instance, social anxiety disorder is a excessive fear of situations involving potential negative evaluation by others, and exposure to social situations almost invariably provokes anxiety. Another common form of anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by persistent and excessive worry or anxious apprehension regarding several events/situations relating to several aspects of everyday life, including work, health, family and/or financial issues. Such worry is perceived as uncontrollable and dangerous. People struggling with anxiety problems often engage in unhelpful behaviors, such as checking, seeking reassurance, or avoiding feared situations or objects. These behaviors may bring relief short-term, but in the end, they keep the anxiety going.

The aim of psychotherapy targeting anxiety disorders is to help clients change their negative thoughts, beliefs and thinking processes, as well as behaviors that maintain the problem.