What is Anxiety?

  • 4 Anxiety is a signal from our minds that something is, or may be wrong; and we should listen to it just like we do to any physical signal like pain, hunger, etc.  Under normal conditions it triggers a "fight or flight" response, and involves feelings of fear, dread, worry or apprehension.

  • 4 Anxiety is a normal part of life. Its a biological function that serves a purpose.

  • 4  Anxiety sets off the "fight or flight" response. When we feel we are in danger we make often unconscious decisions to run, or to stay at fight. Sometimes the response is simply to freeze, which is a combination of anxiety and fear; that is, we experience it as an inability to make a decision about what we should do.
    Anxiety becomes a problem when it won't go away or comes on in situations that do not appear to be appropriate; that is, when we are unable to identify any reason for feeling as though we are in danger.

  • 4 Anxiety can be general or specific. For example, some people become anxious and nervous in social situations. They feel uncomfortably self-aware, they may experience physical symptoms such as sweating, and may find maladaptive ways of dealing with this experience such as withdrawing or isolating, or using drugs and/or alcohol to cope.  For others anxiety never seems to go away and is present in a wide range of life's situations, making finding any common factor difficult. 

  • 4 According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over 40 million people over the age of 18 suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, and that does not include people who have not been diagnosed, or whose condition does not fit neatly into a diagnosis.


What are Panic Attacks?

  • 4 Panic attacks are related to anxiety. They are usually much more intense but of shorter duration. They often involve more physical symptoms such as sweating, chest pains, heart palpitations, feeling as though one is choking, or "going crazy." Feelings of terror or doom, as though some feared outcome is about to happen, can also be part of the picture.

  • 4 Panic attacks are often sudden and seem to be of unexplained onset. They have a strong physical component, and can even be mistaken for medical conditions at first. For instance, people may fear that they are having a heart attack or experiencing vertigo rather than connecting it to the experience of anxiety. The first step in such cases is to see a physician in order to rule out a medical cause.
  • 4 Anxiety and panic can be debilitating. They get in the way of quality of life and make people feel as though there is something wrong with them. It is important to focus on both coping strategies, such as relaxation and lifestyle changes. In the longer term it is also important to understand the source of the feelings. Both of these areas are ones where a psychotherapist can help.