Anxiety definition: Anxiety is an unsettled feeling a person has that can be best described as fear, distress, or apprehension that doesn’t have a true external cause. It may be a fleeting feeling that goes away quickly or it can be long-lasting and crippling to those suffering from it.
Everyone can be anxious from time to time. What is anxiety? It can be difficult to explain if you haven’t experienced it much in your life.
It can be that nervous feeling in your stomach when you have to stand up in front of a large crowd and deliver a speech. Only it might not last for just a few minutes beforehand, you might be extremely worried for days or even weeks before.
It can be a constant nagging worry that something is about to go wrong in your life or an intense fear of engaging in social situations.
Worry is a normal feeling that everyone occasionally struggles with. But for people with this condition, anxiety is much worse than that. The simplest explanation for an anxiety disorder definition is that it can be a constant state that leaves them feeling worried, scared, or distressed much of the time.
It can be life altering, influencing a person’s relationships, career, travel plans, and every major aspect of their lives if the condition is severe enough. Their friends may call them things like a worrywart or high strung, not understanding that for the victim anxiety is very real.
It can be hard to be the person suffering from the condition, but it can also be difficult on their loved ones. They need support as well. Understanding the condition can make it easier on them, which is one of the things to remember if you love a person with anxiety.
The History of Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t a new thing -- people have struggled with it since humans were on this planet. It just went by a different name and wasn’t well understood.
Anxiety as a condition, which was called hysteria in ancient Greece, was believed to be a woman’s problem that stemmed from having a uterus. That just goes to show that men have never really understood women after all!
And later throughout history, hysteria was misunderstood and punished in other ways. If a woman was thought of as being too hysterical she was sometimes accused of witchcraft and suffered the consequences for that.
So while anxiety has never been easy for those who have to deal with it, at least we now live in a time where it is largely recognized as an actual behavioral condition. People are no longer tortured or killed for suffering from it.
But that doesn’t mean recognizing and admitting you suffer from an anxiety disorder is easy even in today’s society. More than 18 percent of the U.S. population suffers from it, but only just over one-third of those people with anxiety disorders get treatment for it. The anxiety meaning has evolved over the centuries, but it is still sometimes misunderstood or misperceived.
Fear or Anxiety?
The reason some people don’t seek treatment for their condition is that they don’t realize they even have it to begin with. They mistake it for ordinary fears or being high strung, and they think it’s normal.
It’s easy to see how people mistake the two feelings. They can feel exactly the same to the sufferer, and the generalized medical definition given to anxiety doesn’t make it much easier to tell the difference. But there are important differences between the two.
Let’s look at the earliest humans, who assuredly often felt fear. The fear they felt served a strong purpose -- it kept them alive. It led to a fight or flight instinct that kept them safe from animals, helped them find food, and survive in a harsh environment.
So now that we have established what fear is and how it can be beneficial to our ultimate goal of survival, what does anxiety mean? For people who wonder about anxiety, it’s different than fear. You can feel anxious often, even when there is no concrete reason to.
So while fear is a proper response to a threat, anxiety happens even without a true threat. It can be the mere thought of something going wrong. Your mind is solely responsible for it, while fear is generally caused by external factors, like a car suddenly pulling out in front of you.
If you’re wondering what causes anxiety, join the club. Doctors have been trying to pinpoint the exact causes, but instead, have come up with a list of factors that might make someone more prone to getting it. While it is believed to be caused by a number of factors such as genetics and traumatic events, you might even have habits that make anxiety worse.
Listening to your body may help you distinguish between fear and anxiety so you can better figure out which one you’re feeling. They cause different physical symptoms. With fear, you might have a faster heart rate, shortness of breath, and feel your muscles tense up.
But the symptoms of anxiety go beyond that, partly because of the long-lasting nature of it. What are the symptoms of anxiety? You might feel tension in your head, face, and jaw, have problems sleeping, headaches, sweat a lot more than usual, have chest pain, nausea, dizziness, trembling, tingling, ear ringing, and even hot flashes or cold sensations.
When you’re going through this you might have a big question forming in your mind: Can anxiety kill you? The answer is no, your anxiety attack can’t kill you. But it might feel like it sometimes. And even though anxiety can’t kill you, it does cause stress.
Chronic and even acute stress, as many of us already know, can lead to a shorter life. It is well-known as a leading factor in several serious medical conditions like heart issues. It can also lead to sleep anxiety.
The sleep anxiety definition is when you’re worried or afraid that you won’t be able to sleep because of your fears. Those fears can even aggravate your insomnia, making a bad situation even worse.
Types of Anxiety
If you have this condition or suspect you do, you might be surprised that there are different types of anxiety. It isn’t considered one of the mental illnesses that affect people, but rather a behavioral condition.
Knowing that can influence how you treat it or help you figure out how to reduce anxiety.
If you’re wondering which type of anxiety disorder you may have, here are the different varieties:
Social anxiety: Social anxiety disorder is a common type, which usually starts at around age 13. It’s when you have extreme anxiety at the thought of being judged in social situations. A social phobia impacts a person’s life in many ways, from the relationships they have to the line of work they choose.
Generalized anxiety disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder, GAD as it is commonly called, hits women more frequently than men. This type results in constant worry about many aspects of life, like family, money, work, health, and more.
Panic disorder: Panic disorder strikes women more than men too. This typically involves having spur-of-the-moment panic attacks. They can even happen as soon as they wake up or while falling asleep.
Specific phobias: Specific phobias also seem to favor the ladies, as it happens to women twice as much as men. With this disorder, the anxiety is attached to a specific object or situation.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): With OCD, you might have strange compulsions you think you need to perform because it will relieve your anxiety. It might be something like checking your door repeatedly at night to ensure it is locked or having to brush your hair a certain number of times.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Another mental health disorder that more frequently happens to women, PTSD can be the result of witnessing or being the victim of a horrific event, like serving in the military during wartime, being raped, or having a bad accident.
You Can Find Relief
Even though anxiety can feel like the end of the world, there are ways to deal with it. By figuring out what type you have and what has been triggering it, you can get a better handle on what to do next.
There are medications you can try, or you can seek more natural solutions. You have plenty of options. You can get through this because we know more about this condition than ever before.