by Maria Lebron, January 2020.
Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is a response to the anticipation of a future threat. Some level of anxiety is to be expected in situations which are unfamiliar or stressful, but an anxiety disorder is present when a person feels very anxious and tense even when there is no real danger or threat. The person’s distress interferes with their daily activities, and some people may take extreme steps to avoid situations which make them feel anxious. A person with an anxiety disorder will constantly worry and always expect the worst. Hyper-vigilance and fear are present in everyday life.
In addition to these psychological symptoms, there will be physical symptoms present because when a person senses danger their body undergoes a number of automatic physiological changes that respond to the perceived threat. These changes include: the release of large amounts of the hormone adrenaline to increase alertness, an increased heart rate to move blood to the large muscles of the body, and an increased breathing rate to take in more oxygen. A number of symptoms can occur as a result, including sweating, trembling, feeling sick, cold hands and feet, feeling dizzy, and pins and needles.
Factors Contributing to Anxiety
Many factors can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders including familial, environmental, personality, and biological factors.
Familial – People with a family history of an anxiety or mood disorder are more likely to have an anxiety disorder.
Environmental – People who have experienced major life stresses are at a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Also, uncertainties and the threat of loss (such as the possible loss of a job, a loved one’s illness, a health scare, etc.) can cause great anxiety. Substance abuse has also been linked to the development of anxiety disorders in certain people.
Personality – Some personality types appear to be more at risk of developing an anxiety disorder, such as people who are extremely nervous, overly emotional and sensitive, worry a lot, or who do not have adequate coping skills.
Biological -There is some evidence that people with anxiety disorders may have disruptions to hormones and electrical signals in the brain, especially in people with a history of trauma.
Anxiety and Phobias
Anxiety can cause an avoidance of situations and is one of the causes for phobias such as :
Agoraphobia: anxiety of being in places from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing or where help may be unavailable. If a person has experienced panic attacks as a result of this anxiety, they avoid going into any place or situation where previous anxiety attacks have occurred.
Social phobia: An intense anxiety experienced in certain types of social or performance situations. A person with social phobia fears being watched or humiliated while doing something in front of others, and as a result, they avoid these situations.
Specific phobia: A persistent, unreasonable, and extreme fear of specific objects or situations, which can cause severe limitations if the feared object or situation is a common one. The most common specific phobia is fear of animals, such as dogs, snakes, insects, and mice. Other common specific phobias are fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia) and fear of heights (acrophobia). In most cases, just thinking of the feared object or situation causes overwhelming anxiety.
Treatments for Anxiety
Anxiety disorders respond well to psychological treatment and many people experience meaningful symptom relief and improvement in their quality of life when they undergo therapy. Therapy can help one gain some insight into what is causing the anxiety and how to get the anxiety under control. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, some treatment may take longer than others. While some people feel some relief in their symptoms after a few weeks or months, for others it may take longer due to the severity of the anxiety. Treatment can help a person suffering from anxiety gain more control over their thoughts, symptoms, and quality of life.