Is my anxiety pathological? Understanding anxiety in the age of COVID-19

During these months, there has been a lot of talk about the various effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental health., Calling it “the other pandemic”.

It is observed, to a large extent, that the population reaches very high levels of fear and anxiety, which acted as a trigger for symptoms of different types, being the most common of all anxieties. That the current situation has provoked a reaction of this magnitude is logical and normal.

    Faced with the pandemic, is the anxiety I am suffering from something pathological?

    The word “anxiety” is increasingly used, both in clinical parlance and in popular parlance, sometimes used as an interchangeable synonym for “fear”.

    For this reason, it is useful to clarify some differences between these terms: both result in a feeling of insecurity, but fear is oriented towards the present, it is an automatic, biological and adaptive defense reaction, Faced with the perception of danger (fear can be rational or irrational). It is of high intensity, negative affect, and lasts as long as the dangerous situation lasts.

    On another side, anxiety is forward looking; that is, it is the ability to anticipate an event that may be harmful to us. This function can be adaptive when the intensity and frequency of symptoms adapt to the danger of the event that is feared, and allows us to anticipate and act.

    However, when the anxiety reaction is disproportionate, it is not easy to identify its cause, and when the person exhibiting these symptoms feels very limited by them it could be said that, far from performing a useful function, it can be a clinical problem you need professional help.

    At first, in the face of the pandemic, most of society of course reacted with fear: fear of viruses, fear of getting sick, and fear of family and friends getting sick. So we adapted to the restrictions and the behavior of the vast majority was aimed at minimizing the risks, so that little by little the crisis became more manageable.

    But As we got used to living with the new situation, new threats arose: Fear of not finding a job or losing it if you already have it, fear of losing your quality of life, fear of not being able to meet expenses, fear of loneliness, of feeling limited when it is about accessing rewarding activities …

    This is where drawing the line between what is clinical and what is not becomes a little complicated. It is important that we ask ourselves a series of questions to locate ourselves: is my anxiety related to something with which I identify? Is the extent of my discomfort appropriate for the stimulus causing me insecurity and the likelihood of it occurring? Is my anxiety leading me to action or preventing me from taking the reins of my life? Has it gotten a little out of hand for me?

    How does anxiety manifest itself?

    Anxiety is not a unitary phenomenon, but manifests itself through three components; this is called the triple response system.

    Cognitive component

    It refers to internal experience, taking into account individual differences when perceiving and evaluating states associated with anxiety. In this component we also find a series of irrational thoughts which not only facilitate the onset of anxiety, but also maintain it.

    Physiological component

    Anxiety is often accompanied by somatic symptoms due to activation of the autonomic nervous system. These symptoms can be: sweating, tremors, increased muscle tension, heart rate, dry mouth, rapid breathing, etc. The way the person interprets these symptoms helps to consolidate the subjective state of anxiety.

      behavioral component

      Anxiety usually causes us to behave in a fleeting and evasive manner. It makes perfect sense that we try to move away from what we perceive to be harmful; but be careful, keep in mind that sometimes we perceive things in an unrealistic way, and moreover, if we get used to avoiding and getting carried away by our anxiety, we will hardly overcome it.

      On another note, clarifying this anxiety also has an effect on our facial expression and body posture.

      What will be the consequences for me of having high levels of anxiety?

      It is possible that anxiety has already become crippling when you have problems concentrating and sleeping and eating habits are altered (either by excess or by default). You are very likely to have a constant sense of worry which is perceived as inappropriate and intrusive thoughts, irritability and restlessness.. It is also possible to perceive a feeling of mental heaviness which makes it very difficult to make a decision, as well as the appearance of excessively intense reactions to last minute changes.

      With this article, we would like to help depathologize behaviors that are actually normal. We are going through a difficult time as a society and there is nothing pathological about reacting with anger, anxiety or sadness. However, if these emotions flood us, it is quite fundamental to recognize the need to express them, to accept them and to transform them.

      It is quite possible that this situation acted as a trigger, or as a drop spilling the glass on many people who for one reason or another collapsed. So now is a good time to consider evaluating our behaviors, thoughts, and emotional regulation strategies.

      Finally, mention that if you find that lately this situation is very difficult to manage and you have felt identified with the article, know that this can be changed. We, Introspection in Psychology, We work every day to provide psychological support to people who are going through difficult times. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need it.

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