Every human has feelings of anxiety once in awhile, and such feelings are natural reactions to stress. Anxiety is characterized by worry and uneasiness, and is physiologically shown by one’s sympathetic nervous system acting up. Being anxious prepares us to deal with problems, threatening or not. Like pain, it is often thought of as bad but in reality is beneficial. Without anxiety, we would not worry about anything and important tasks would not be completed.
Therefore, the next time you feel anxious about something, you can quell the feeling somewhat by acknowledging it is a natural part of life. In fact, the amygdala (a brain structure that is part of the limbic system, the brain’s emotional center) shows increased activity when one experiences anxiousness, and scientists thus speculate that anxiety is a survival function that prevents one from engaging in harmful activities.
Anxiety is somewhat similar to fear, although there are certain characteristics that differentiate the two. For one, anxiety occurs without an external stimulus, and anxiety is not prompted by life threatening situations.
There are several varieties of anxiety which can be classified in to broad categories. The first main type is existential anxiety, and can be described as philosophical in nature. All people experience some form of existential anxiety at one point or another.
Fear of dying falls under this category, as the broad definition of existential anxiety is the fear of nonbeing. Another powerful form of this anxiety is spiritual anxiety, in which people feel hopeless because they see no meaning in life. These anxieties can emerge and subside relatively quickly, and are usually quelled by life’s daily activities.
One anxiety that is commonly felt by students is test anxiety. This occurs before a difficult test that one believes they will not do well on. Hours or even days prior to the assessment, one will constantly worry about it and expect to fail.
The ironic thing is that all the time spent worrying could be spent studying, in which one could alleviate their anxiety by strengthening their knowledge. While test anxiety primarily refers to assessments given in school, it also covers the anxiety felt by adults when they are faced with a task at work. In either case, the anxiety can be extremely strong and interfere with work.
Social anxiety is when one is afraid of meeting new people or being around others. In small children, a fear of strangers is a natural stage in development, but if such a fear persists in to adulthood, it is classified as a disorder. Social anxiety is treated with therapy and in some cases medication, and once it is cured it usually stays that way.
If one’s anxiety hardly ever dissipates or is uncommonly strong, it may be anxiety disorder. People suffering from anxiety disorder worry about harmless things or nonexistent threats. In severe cases, the anxiety is perpetual and it can be difficult to complete mundane tasks.
To non-sufferers, anxiety disorder can seem like a relatively benign mental disorder, but those who have it know that it can be as debilitating as a physical condition. Like social anxiety, a combined treatment of psychological sessions and targeted drug therapy can alleviate the condition or cure it altogether.