Topic 1 Anxiety

1.1. Definition: Normal and pathologic anxiety

  • Another characteristic of anxiety is its ability to motivate behaviour (motivate for action) and prepare the organism for future actions. In this sense, anxiety is positive and adaptive; for example, a certain level of anxiety can help us to prepare better for an exam or a lesson.
  • However, too much anxiety disturbs performance and can have a negative impact on a person’s life. Pathological anxiety (maladaptive anxiety) differs from non-pathological anxiety (normal or adaptive anxiety) by being more frequent, more intense and/or more persistent, and thus interfere with the individual’s life (e.g. by disrupting social, family or work life) or produce a high level of personal distress.

1.2. Types of anxiety

Anxiety (like any other emotion), involves at least three components or response systems:

Physical anxiety (physiological-somatic)

The experience of anxiety is accompanied by a biological component. The most typical physiological changes consist of an increase in the activity of the autonomic nervous system, which can be reflected both externally (sweating, pupil dilation, tremor, facial pallor, etc.) and internally (heart rate acceleration, decreased salivation, accelerated breathing, etc.).

Cognitive-emotional (or subjective) anxiety

This component of anxiety is related to the person’s own internal experience. For example, experiences of fear, panic, alarm, restlessness, worry, apprehension, obsessions, etc.

Behavioural (or motor) anxiety

This is the observable component that, apart from involving variables such as facial expression and body movements or postures, mainly refers to escape (flight/escape) and avoidance responses. For example, when a person experiences anxiety about having to go out and speak in public, he/she may avoid doing so and thus escape from the situation that causes him/her discomfort.

1.3. Social anxiety. Symptoms

  • Social anxiety is a common human experience characterised by an intense fear of evaluation (either negative or positive) by others in social situations.
  • It is an intense fear or anxiety that appears in relation to social situations in which the person is exposed to the opinions and criticism of others and fears acting in an embarrassing, ridiculous or humiliating way, or showing signs of anxiety that may be perceived and evaluated negatively by observers.
  • Such situations are often anxiously anticipated (sometimes days, weeks or months before they occur), as well as experiencing and remembering the situation when it has already happened in a negative way.
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1.4. Early and warning signs for seeking help

If you notice that lately you are feeling more frequent and more intense the following symptoms:

Feelings of nervousness, agitation or tension, sense of imminent danger  panic or catastrophe, increased heart rate, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling, feelings of weakness or tiredness, problems concentrating, problems falling asleep, gastrointestinal problems, difficulties controlling worries and the need to avoid situations that generate anxiety, among others.

Then, use some strategy to cope with it or contact a mental health professional (psychologist and/or psychiatrist) to find a solution as soon as possible. Mental health is important as it is physical health.