A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Anxiety
Updated: Sep 26
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety may come with experiences that are persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling.
When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions - just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.
One of the biggest obstacles to working through anxiety is to simply understand what we mean when we use the term. If we’re not clear on what it is, it makes it hard to figure out where it’s coming from and what to do about it.
So let’s begin by defining anxiety through the 3 levels of human experience
Physical experiences are bodily sensations: hot, cold, dry, tense, relaxed, etc.
Cognitive experiences are any type of mental or intellectual phenomenon or anything else about thoughts. We have come to understand them more so in a verbal fashion, lets refer to your inner conscience who motivates you through a hard test or reassures you through a difficult circumstance
Emotional experiences are essentially a mixture of physical and cognitive. Consider a situation that angered you, for example, there are usually thoughts and inner talk, but we also physically feel tensions, hotness, or restlessness.
Here are a few ways to differentiate anxiety from everyday stress:
A stressor is anything in our environment that’s perceived to be threatening or challenging (e.g. a blowout tire during travel at night or an upcoming final in college).
In layman terms, being stressed or stressed-out are the casual terms we use to describe how we feel physically feel when we are in a chronic or long-term state of elevated stress. It is important to note that all of these occur on the physical level, even though we sometimes use the terms stress or stressed-out to describe how we feel emotionally.
"I am so nervous about my mcat exam, I cant stop sweating. I feel like my nerves are on high".
Seemingly out of the blue panic attacks and the preoccupation with the fear of having another one.
"Be careful! That knife is really sharp, you're making me nervous".
Irrational fear or avoidance of an objects, place, or situation that poses little or no threat of danger.
The difference between Fear & Anxiety
Similar to fear, anxiety is an emotion that comes about in response to the perception of a threat or danger. But while fear is typically a response to a realistic threat in the present that quickly subsides, anxiety is usually a response to an unrealistic threat—often one that is imagined or could hypothetically happen in the future no matter how unlikely—and it tends to persist in frequency and intensity.
Common Anxiety Disorders
Though similar, these disorders are distinctly different Generalized Anxiety, (GAD), is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues.
Panic disorder is a disorder that causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger. You may feel as if you are losing control. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and without warning. You may live in fear of another attack and may avoid places where you have had an attack. Be aware that panic disorders can lead to phobias.
Unlike the brief anxiety you may feel when giving a speech or taking a test, specific phobias are long-lasting, cause intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your ability to function normally at work, at school, or in social settings.
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders. Here’s how to know if your social silence has gone beyond shyness to a point where you need to see a doctor.
Anyone with social anxiety disorder can experience it in different ways. But here are some common situations that people tend to have trouble with:
Talking to strangers
Speaking in public
Making eye contact
Ways to effectively calm down anxiety:
Admit that you're anxious or angry
Challenge your thoughts
Release the anxiety or anger
Visualize yourself calm
Think it through
Listen to music
Change your focus
It’s important to be as specific as possible about how we feel. Think about asking, for any given experience: Is it primarily physical, cognitive, or emotional?
If you or a loved one feel that they may suffer from anxiety help us match you to the right counselor by "Getting in Touch" on our site! Make sure to subscribe for more weekly blogs, stay calm & breathe!