Anxiety: Definition, Psychology and Treatments

By Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated June 28, 2019

Anxiety is medically defined as "an emotion described as feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure," according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Believe it or not, experiencing anxiety is not particularly uncommon or alien.

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Many people feel anxious when they are doing something which requires them to step outside of their comfort zones; some common examples include public speaking, starting a new job, etc. In and of itself, anxiety is not problematic, but when its presence impedes the ability to successfully function or maintain healthy emotional or mental states, this this when issues arise. Therefore, understanding anxiety, the psychology behind it, and subsequent treatment options is very important, especially in today's world.

Everything You Need To Know About Anxiety

First and foremost, it's important to note the contrast between feeling anxious and experiencing clinical anxiety which can be debilitating and otherwise involve outside treatment. In many settings, the two cases are synonymously referenced which can create confusion. Knowing and comprehending the difference between the two is better for everyone.

Feeling Anxious

As previously stated, it's normal to feel anxious when you're stepping out of your comfort zone or trying something new for the first time. During times like these, pushing through the nerves and feelings of anxiousness is what matters. Anxiety should never impede your ability to grow, push yourself, and open yourself up to opportunities which would otherwise be unavailable. As a matter of fact, being able to rise above feeling anxious is a great sign and can build character in many situations.

Sometimes feeling anxious is a sign of danger or a sign that someone shouldn't do something which may get them into trouble. Sometimes people feel anxious before committing a crime, lying to their significant other, or otherwise behaving in ways which are dishonorable and not upstanding. In these situations, you shouldn't pull back from what you're thinking of doing. Sometimes feeling anxious is a good thing; it can actually protect us from danger and keep us from making mistakes which we will later come to regret. This is why it's so important to be in tune with yourself and how you feel. Your emotions exist and come to the surface for a reason.

Clinical Anxiety

Clinical anxiety is very different from merely feeling anxious and should be treated accordingly. When someone experiences "normal" anxiety, they're able to manage or push through this emotion without allowing it to negatively impact their ability to function and do well in everyday life. Clinical anxiety, however, is a whole other ballpark and it's important for people to be cognizant of this.

There are many symptoms and common behaviors which are linked to clinical anxiety. More often than not, clinical anxiety is present when someone has a difficult time with functioning due to their anxiety. This could take place in the form of struggling to concentrate, not feeling motivated, withdrawing from others, harboring extreme worries about the past or future, etc. Whenever someone suffers from clinical anxiety, it's very important for them to have a strong, healthy support system. This is helpful for anyone, but especially paramount for those who struggle with their mental health.

Exploring The Psychology Of Anxiety

In the mainstream, there is lots of talk about anxiety, its symptoms, and how to treat it. However, the actual psychology of anxiety is a matter which is discussed much less commonly, yet very critical for understanding mental health and the experiences of people who undergo anxiety. In most cases, the psychology of anxiety boils down to control, the interpretation of a particular situation, belief systems, and the overall ability (or lack thereof) to cope in situations which are not pleasant or comfortable.

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It's fair to state that most people feel better in situations where they are in control. This is understandable as well; when you're in control, you have the ability to manage what happens, what goes on, and what your experiences are. However, there will inevitably be situations in life where you're not able to control what's happening. One of the realities of life is that we cannot control every single thing that happens to or around us. In spite of this, we can control ourselves and the manner in which we react. Sometimes this presents more of a challenge than other times which is where anxiety enters the equation.

The manner in which control is perceived can greatly impact degrees of experienced anxiety. It turns out that the experiences someone has can determine their perception of control and how they are able to cope when control is seemingly absent. If these experiences are hurtful, traumatic, and not dealt with, then this can cause problems, many of which manifest in the form of anxiety.

Interpretations of Situations

Things are not always what they appear to be and yet, the manner in which someone interprets a situation can greatly impact their emotional state. Under duress, it can be very easy to experience stress, anger, and other negative emotions. In many cases, when a situation is believed to impact a person's well-being, whether it's their physical, emotional, or financial well-being, this can generate extreme anxiety.

In essence, situations which are interpreted as threats tend to bring about various degrees of anxiety. This is normal, particularly for anyone with even a healthy sense of self-preservation. As human beings, we want to maintain safety and steer clear of danger. As previously stated, anxiety tends to surface during circumstances where danger is present.

Belief Systems

Many people don't realize this, but there is a psychological link between belief systems and anxiety. If someone walks into a job interview and sees that the other candidates who are preparing for the job are wearing more formal attire, they may experience mild anxiety. This anxiety would be brought about by the belief that their chances of getting their dream job will be short, due to the manner in which their competition is dressed. This may or may not be accurate, but nevertheless, the belief system is what triggers the anxiety, in this particular case.

Coping in Uncomfortable Situations

Anyone who has found themselves in a challenging situation knows how tough it can be to cope. Believe it or not, the ability to cope during unpleasant times shares strong connections with the amount of control which a person believes they have. This doesn't mean that the two are completely tethered, but there are definitely links. When someone feels helpless and powerless, this is significantly likelier to generate anxiety as opposed to a different situation where someone believes that things will eventually blow over.

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Treatments For Anxiety

When anxiety interferes with a person's ability to successfully function in the world and do well for themselves, then that presents a very real problem. Left unchecked, anxiety can negatively impact relationships, businesses, professional opportunities, finances, and so much more. This is why having access to the various treatment options for anxiety is so very paramount.

Personal Lifestyle Choices

Believe it or not, the lifestyle that a person lives can significantly reduce or do away with anxiety sometimes. This is not true in all cases. However, in situations where it's relevant, some of the best lifestyle choices to lessen anxiety include balance, routine, the consumption of a healthy diet, and steering clear of caffeine, drugs and alcohol. Surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded people also makes a great difference as well. It's amazing, but the people in our lives truly have the power to increase or decrease the levels of anxiety which we experience.

Professional Therapy

Try as we might, dealing with anxiety on our own is not always possible…and that's okay. As a matter of fact, it can actually be very enlightening and beneficial to see a therapist. Working with a professional can not only help you learn more about anxiety and how to control it, but you are also afforded the luxury of learning more about yourself and who you are. Sometimes, iit can be scary to open up to someone you've never met and share intimate details about yourself, even if they are a therapist. However, it's important to remember that a therapist is there to help you, not pass judgement on you.

A Final Word

The world would be a much better place if more people understood anxiety, the psychology behind it and the appropriate methods of treatment. Unfortunately, this condition is often stigmatized and people are simply told to brush it off and get over it. This doesn't help and can simply make a tense situation ten times worse.

Whether you're dealing with anxiety or another matter entirely, it's important for you to know that you are not alone. Things may seem confusing or scary, but there are always people out there who are willing to help if you allow them to do so. Here at BetterHelp, we have an amazing team of therapists who would be thrilled to sit down with you and be of service. No matter who you are or what you may be going through, you are not alone.

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