What is anxiety: how to recognize it and what to do

We’ve all felt anxiety at some point: Before an exam, a job interview, a public exhibition; but when that takes hold in our lives, we start to limit our daily lives.

After a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or just suddenly, for no apparent reason, is when anxiety begins to worry us.

However … What is anxiety and how does it affect us? Let’s look at it throughout this article, in which we will see a summary of the characteristics of this psychological phenomenon of emotional type and which can sometimes lead to psychopathologies and other times it is part of an adaptive and useful psychological tool.

    What is anxiety?

    Anxiety is a collection of psychological and physiological processes that appear when real or perceived dangers are perceived, and which predispose us to react quickly to the slightest sign that we need to do so. It keeps the nervous system in a state of high activation, so that it becomes more sensitive to unexpected stimuli.

    It is an adaptive human response, as long as it is proportionate to the stimulus that triggers it. It’s a red flag that if it lasts over time for no apparent reason, it is warning us that we have something to review in our lives.

    Another positive aspect of anxiety is its relation to performance., Described in the Yertes-Dobson Act in 1908; this law states that when faced with a stressful situation, like taking an exam, anxiety increases, but there is also an increase in efficiency, attention and performance in responding, as long as you do not exceed certain limits. If we exceed this line, performance decreases and information retrieval processes are blocked.

    Anxiety begins to worry us when it appears suddenly, without justification and for no apparent reason. If the physical symptoms are very high, we will also be afraid. Tachycardia, shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle tension, etc. are some of the characteristic symptoms of anxiety. When his appearance is maintained over time, in a high way and in the face of stimuli that do not constitute a real threat, it is then that we speak of maladjusted anxiety.

    When anxiety arises without warning or apparent reason, it can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and the typical “fear of going crazy” anxiety; this in turn generates a drop in mood and a feeling of helplessness.

    Sometimes stress, the appearance of specific problems or difficulties, a traumatic event or the loss of a loved one are some of the causes that follow after anxiety.

      Examples of anxiety disorders

      This disproportionate anxiety gives rise to different manifestations or images of anxiety which take the form of psychopathology. These are psychological phenomena of clinical importance and in which anxiety causes far more problems than can be avoided, and sometimes even gives way to physical health complications or even makes the chances of developing other psychopathologies. .

      The main anxiety disorders are:

      • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

      • Anxiety attack.
      • Panic attack.
      • Agoraphobia.

      main symptoms

      Next, we will look at the physical symptoms, that is, the physiological reactions on our body; cognitive symptoms, related to cognitions, thoughts and effects on information processing; and behavioral symptoms and the influence of anxiety on it.

      Physical symptoms of anxiety

      these are the main physical symptoms of anxiety.

      • Tachycardia.
      • Feeling of pressure in the chest and shortness of breath.
      • Muscle tension and tremors.
      • Cold sweat.
      • Tingling in the limbs, sensations of blocked skin.
      • Difficulty falling asleep or waking up surprised in the middle of the night.
      • Lack of appetite or overeating and no appetite.
      • Tension or knot in the stomach.
      • Feeling dizzy, etc.

      cognitive symptoms

      Among the cognitive symptoms of anxiety, we highlight the following.

      • Excessively negative or catastrophic thoughts.
      • Recurring thoughts of fear of the appearance of physical symptoms, anticipating them.
      • Thoughts of anticipation for the future, with fear of the future and uncertainty.
      • Difficulty maintaining attention and concentration, which drastically reduces memory capacity
      • Disorientation and feeling of loss of control **.
      • Afraid of going crazy.

      Behavioral symptoms of anxiety

      Finally, it is the symptoms that are reflected in the actions.

      • Avoid crowded places or leave the house alone.
      • Social relationships can be avoided.
      • Constantly checking a sense of control, whether over the future for fear of uncertainty, fear of illness, etc. This is usually done by interviewing family and friends, choosing the doctor more than usual, etc.
      • Constantly check that everything is in order, to feel some control.

      All of these anxiety symptoms contribute to the problem that remains, by establishing a “way out” or short-term solution by paying the price for the continued existence of the anxiety disorder. As we will see, these kinds of psychological alterations almost always go away only when one learns to deal with anxiety, rather than trying to block or avoid it. This way you break the vicious circle.

      Treatment with a psychologist: how does it work?

      The psychologist is aware of the limitation of anxiety for his patients when they do not understand how anxiety works. The good news is that understanding it and knowing what it is is the first step in overcoming it.

      Many people suffer from the onset of symptoms without warning and suddenly, which causes them to spend most of their time on the alert. This alert is the one that ends up generating the onset of symptoms sooner or later. This unpredictability on the appearance of anxiety attacks is one of the causes that most affects the person, because it can lead to a bad mood.

      It’s obvious the success of cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders; Today, its very positive results in its treatment are more than known thanks to the application of techniques developed after many years of research in psychology, such as the techniques of progressive exposure, systematic desensitization and the development of capacities of adaptation and learning of anxiety from anxiety.

      During therapy, a key goal is for the person to learn to use these techniques in their daily life and thus regaining the feeling of control over your body and your mood so that they can relieve the symptoms of anxiety and its seizures.

      In addition to unlearning techniques, the anxiety of cognitive-behavioral psychology is very positive, in parallel, the work in psychotherapy of emotions through humanistic psychology as well as the latest techniques developed from discoveries in neuropsychology, such as EMDR or Cerebral Integration Techniques.

      For the psychologist, the main objective is not for the anxiety to disappear, but that the person loses the fear of anxiety and its appearance: By identifying how anxiety manifests in our bodies, emotions and thoughts and being aware that it is a red flag that can teach us a lot about ourselves and how to improve our lives .

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gottschalk, MG; Domschke, K. (2017). Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and associated traits. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 19 (2) ,: 159 – 168.
      • Hofmann, SG; Dibartolo, PM (2010). Introduction: Towards a understanding of social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety. pages XIX – XXVI.
      • Kendler, KS (2004). Major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. FOCUS. 2 (3): pages 416-425.
      • Otte, C. (2011). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of Evidence. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 13 (4): 413-421.
      • Phillips, AC; Carroll, D .; Der, G. (2015). Negative life events and symptoms of depression and anxiety: causing stress and / or generating stress. Anxiety, stress and adaptation. 28 (4): pages 357 to 371.
      • Rynn, MA; Brawman-Mintzer, O. (2004). Generalized anxiety disorder: acute and chronic treatment. CNS spectra. 9 (10): pages 716-723.
      • Sylvers, P .; Lilienfeld, SO; LaPrairie, JL (2011). Differences between trait fear and trait anxiety: implications for psychopathology. Journal of clinical psychology. 31 (1): pages 122 to 137.
      • Waszczuk, MA; Zavos, HMS; Gregory, AM; Eley, TC (2014). The phenotypic and genetic structure of symptoms of depression and anxiety disorder in childhood, adolescence and youth. JAMA Psychiatry. 71 (8): pages 905 to 916.

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