John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Brief Thoughts about Anxiety

The National Institute of Mental Health has a great page devoted to anxiety disorders. You can find it here.

According to the site: “Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense situation in the office, study harder for an exam, keep focused on an important speech. In general, it helps one cope. But when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder.”

Here are the five kinds of anxiety disorders:

--Generalized Anxiety Disorder
--Panic Disorder
--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
--Social Anxiety
--Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Generalized Anxiety is worry, worry, worry, and then more worry. The worry switch just won’t turn off.

A panic attack is akin to intense fear or terror -- but without any obvious event or stimulus to provoke it.

OCD is repetitive behaviors (compulsions) and repugnant thoughts (obsessions) that one cannot stop.

Social Anxiety is dread of common social circumstances.

PTSD is intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, extreme avoidance, intense anxiety, all tied to a prior highly stressful event.

We must differentiate normal anxiety for disordered anxiety. Anxiety in and of itself is not bad; indeed, we are all biologically equipped to feel it. When it comes to performance, for instance, anxiety can be quite helpful. Without some anxiety, the athlete, the musician, and the test-taker would suffer. A moderate amount of anxiety increases alertness, focus, and energy. As it turns out, performance tends to suffer when anxiety is either too low or too high.

When anxiety is too high, it disrupts our abilities to concentrate and focus, to remember and process information, to feel calm, and to function. Although we think of anxiety as an emotion, it affects thinking, behavior, and body as well. Anxiety disorders frequently coexist. One may be both a worrier and a panicker at the same time. This probably because the disorders -- which are really symptom patterns -- may share the same underlying mechanisms.

The goal of treatment is not to eliminate anxiety, but to dial it back to acceptable levels.