Taking a closer look at anxiety

Feeling anxious or stressed is a common human experience. However, there are different types of anxiety, which vary in different degrees. Meaningful Minds Psychologist, Jeanette, gives a detailed explanation of this diverse emotion.

In today’s fast-paced competitive society, probably most of us suffer from symptoms of anxiety at one time or another. Often, work demands cause us to feel anxious. We generally speak about feeling “stressed”. Anxiety is not necessarily all bad as it can motivate you to perform to the best of your ability. Too high a level of anxiety can however result in severe distress and can impact negatively on different areas of your life, whether it be at home, at work or in your social life.

What does it mean if we say we suffer from anxiety? Fear is how we respond emotionally to a real or perceived imminent threat, while anxiety is the anticipation of that future threat. States of fear and anxiety however overlap significantly. As a result, we may refer to feeling anxious when the actual threat is already present and what we are experiencing is fear. Fear is associated with surges of autonomic arousal necessary for fight or flight, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviours. Anxiety on the other hand is associated with muscle tension, being vigilant to prepare for future danger and avoidant behaviours. Anxiety disorders include features of both excessive fear and excessive anxiety.

There are many different symptoms of anxiety, including psychological and physical symptoms. Common symptoms include:

· Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge

· Being easily fatigued

· Difficulty concentrating or your mind going blank

· Irritability

· Muscle tension

· Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)

· Nightmares

· Heart palpitations

· Dizziness

· Headaches

· Stomach aches

· Nausea and vomiting

It is important to note that some of the symptoms of anxiety overlap with symptoms of depression, for example being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, and irritable mood in the case of children and adolescents. It is therefore always advisable to consult a mental health professional to assist you in teasing out what you are actually suffering from - anxiety or depression or even a mix of the two.

There are also many types of anxiety, as described below:

· Generalized anxiety means having apprehensive expectations about a number of upcoming events or activities, which leads to excessive anxiety and worry. Adults often worry about possible job responsibilities, health and finances, the health of family members, misfortune to their children or other minor matters. Children often worry about their competence or the quality of their performance.