How To Describe Anxiety From A Psychological Perspective

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated June 01, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Heather Cashell

It is important to understand how the mind reacts to the very physical sensations anxiety can produce. Anxiety is a complex area of study. There are many ways to describe anxiety, but describing it from a psychological perspective is important for creating an individualized treatment plan. Anxiety presents with many symptoms, and a professional therapist or psychologist can make a big difference in the lives of those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety itself is a trigger and reaction to the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. When adrenaline is released, the body reacts with a flight or fight response. When we are faced with danger or stress, the body triggers a release of adrenaline. When there is a real threat to safety, this release of adrenaline and the physical response it creates will help us deal with the threat. When there is no present threat to safety, this release of adrenaline triggers what is commonly called an "anxiety attack" or "panic attack."


Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

There are many physical symptoms of anxiety and understanding the physical symptoms helps to put the psychological symptoms into perspective.

This release of adrenaline will increase the heart rate and blood circulation, breathing will increase as the body prepares our muscles for exertion. Increased heart rate and breath rate may result in feelings of lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. These alarming physical symptoms can even be similar enough to those of other conditions, like asthma or even heart attacks. Some people even believe that anxiety can cause heart attacks. The bad news is that studies have shown a correlation between anxiety and heart problems. The good news is that these studies have failed to find a direct line of causation between anxiety attacks and heart attacks.

Even our metabolism reacts to the release of adrenaline and carbohydrates will begin to fuel the muscles for fight or flight. This can lead to symptoms as varied as jitteriness and indigestion. Some studies have even linked anxiety and ulcers - a condition in which stomach acid burns through a protective layer of mucous and damages the stomach wall. Ulcers can also be related to heartburn - a condition in which stomach acid rises into the throat leading to chest pain that is often mistaken for more serious conditions.

Every body system is affected by the release of adrenaline, including our brains. This can lead to jitteriness as well as confusion, which can make the attack worse.

How to Describe Anxiety from a Psychological Perspective

Understanding the physical aspects of anxiety is important, but the condition is also a psychological condition and understanding the condition from a psychological perspective is also important.

When adrenaline is released into our system and no threat is present, we will still react to the adrenaline. Anxiety is a psychological response to this heightened state of a threat when there is no threat. Despite the lack of an actual threat, the mind is forced to deal with the extra adrenaline and the emotions it triggers.


What an Anxiety Diagnosis Means

The diagnosis of emotional and mental disorders is anything but arbitrary. Health experts use a special manual called "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual," currently in its fifth edition. You will often see it referred to under its common acronym, the DSM-V.

This manual explains anxiety from a psychological perspective with a list of mental symptoms. Professional therapists and psychologists use this manual to diagnose anxiety and other conditions.

There are many different types of anxiety disorder and it is important to seek professional help if you believe you are suffering from it.

Anxiety Disorders and Symptoms

Below is a list of some anxiety disorders that are common; this list is not a complete guide, only a professional can make a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This condition is characterized by a constant but vague fear of virtually everything, even mundane or unlikely events.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder

People with this condition do not always have feelings of anxiety-like those with generalized anxiety disorder but may have feelings of anxiety in social situations. They may be worried that other people are talking about them, or that they are going to do something to embarrass themselves.

  • Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a condition related to anxiety. It describes people who have particularly strong panic attacks and may even have a panic attack over the fear of one.

  • Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder

This specific anxiety disorder is when people experience feelings of anxiety due to a drug that they are taking. Many illegal drugs can cause anxiety, but anxiety may also be a side-effect of prescription medications.

  • Phobias

Phobias are an intense fear of a specific thing, entity, or event, usually without basis. Most phobias do not cause anxiety because they are the fear of something that isn't usually a problem, like heights. Other phobias, like the fear of open or public spaces, are more pervasive and more impactful.

  • Unspecified Anxiety Disorder

This non-specific anxiety disorder is usually used to describe someone who has symptoms of two or more specific anxiety disorders.

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder occurs when an individual is worried about their separation, or the results of their separation from another person. Parents or children may experience this, but the members of unhealthy romantic relationships may also experience it.


Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Treatment for anxiety disorders varies depending on the type of disorder. The proper treatment can reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety and control the psychological symptoms of this disorder. This list of treatment options is not a comprehensive list and it should not be used to self-treat any anxiety disorder.

  • Exposure Therapy

This therapy, often used for people with phobias, gradually exposes them to the thing that they are afraid of so that they can understand that their fear is unfounded.

  • Medications

Some people with anxiety, specifically generalized anxiety disorder, may find that some medications help them to avoid the symptoms of anxiety

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT

This form of behavioral therapy helps people who suffer from anxiety to understand that the things that they are afraid of are natural and necessary parts of life. It also helps them to learn how to deal with their problems without panicking and suffering from attacks. This therapy is not often used for people with phobias because most phobias are irrational fears that it is difficult or impractical for them to embrace them.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapies

These therapies help individuals to learn how they can change their thoughts of behavior in certain circumstances to reduce their feelings of anxiety.

  • Mindfulness Therapy

Mindfulness practices like meditation can often help people to reduce symptoms of anxiety before or during an attack. Through mindfulness therapy, people learn how and when to use these practices.

  • Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, symptoms of anxiety are brought about by environmental or dietary factors that the individual can change in order to reduce symptoms of anxiety with little or no therapy.

A Licensed professional therapist or psychologist can diagnose and treat all types of anxiety disorders and it is common to seek professional help.

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