What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or restlessness, typically about an impending event or something with an uncertain outcome. It’s a normal and often healthy emotion, but it can become a disabling condition when severe or if it persists for a long time.

People with anxiety can have physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and dizziness, as well as psychological symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, and trouble sleeping. Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of factors, including stress, genetics, and certain medical conditions. It’s important to seek help if anxiety is interfering with your daily life or causing you significant distress.

Anxiety can be useful, as it helps you to react when confronted with dangerous situations (for example, a fire) and can also motivate you to work hard to achieve a goal (for example, concerning studies or at work).

However, anxiety can also sometimes lead to a state of distress for no justified reason. For instance, anxiety may appear when there is no life-threatening danger (such as the fire referred to above), or when we react disproportionately to a stimulus (for example, by systematically freezing when facing an exam or in a job interview; or by having catastrophic thoughts when you experience a normal physical sensation). In these cases, we could be facing an anxiety disorder.

Signs of pathological anxiety

Pathological anxiety, also known as an anxiety disorder, is a type of mental health condition characterized by excessive and persistent anxiety that interferes with daily functioning. Some common signs of pathological anxiety include:

  • Excessive Worry: People with anxiety disorders often worry excessively about everyday events or situations that would not normally worry others.
  • Physical symptoms: Physical symptoms of anxiety can include fast heart rate, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, and upset stomach.
  • Avoidance: People with anxiety disorders may avoid certain situations or activities because they are afraid of experiencing anxiety.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Anxiety can cause difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
  • Irritability: Anxiety can cause irritability, mood swings, and difficulty controlling emotions.
  • Difficulty sleeping: Anxiety can cause difficulty falling or staying asleep, or it can cause restless, unsatisfactory sleep.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment for anxiety disorders can be very effective and may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Thoughts: “Something bad is going to happen!”

Imagine that you have been invited to a party where you do not know anyone and you have thoughts of the following type: “nobody is going to talk to me”, “I will have a terrible time”, or “people will think that I am a very boring person”. All of them unfoundedly anticipate a negative situation that has not occurred and cause you discomfort.

Physical sensations: reaction to the threat

Our body has a system to help you escape danger. In ancient times, this has helped our ancestors to escape life-threatening danger such as wild animals. And even today, this is useful to keep you safe when facing a threat (for instance, a fire). This is where the physical sensations of anxiety appear: the heart may begin to beat faster, we may experience a feeling of suffocation, tremors, sweats, or dizziness. This answer from our body allows us to be alert and to escape.

However, our body does not always distinguish between a situation of real and imaginary danger. For this reason, the bodily sensations described above appear not only when we are in physical danger, but also when our mind perceives an unreal “threat” (for example, the “threat” of having to attend a party where we don’t know anyone, or the “threat” of failing an exam). These physical sensations are not pleasant, but they cannot harm you.

What can I do?

First step: getting people to understand what you are going through

If you think may be experiencing anxiety, think of someone to talk to. It is not always easy to acknowledge your vulnerabilities, but it is important to express your feelings: other people will not be able to help you if they do not know what you are going through.

Next steps: finding a solution

Later, it will be necessary to seek specialised help. A professional will be able to assess your case and give you the right tools in order to overcome an anxiety disorder. Talk to your family doctor so that he can refer you to a psychologist, or find a psychologist yourself.