Sometimes when asked to describe what anxiety is, those that experience the feeling have difficulty describing it. Anxiety is feeling that “you know when you have it,” even if you can’t put it into more words. On some level, a person typically feels a mix of “not right,” overwhelmed, fearful, irritable, or feeling like they are in a dream along with experiencing physical sensations such as a rapid heart rate, stomach uneasiness, or muscle tension. Each person experiences anxiety a bit differently. So, let me break down what anxiety generally is as there are many types of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety and fear have a lot in common with regard to how it feels in the body. Fear is the emotion expressed when encountering a real or perceived danger/threat. On the other hand, anxiety is a response to anticipating a future danger or a threat. Think about it like this: fear is a normal response when encountering a tiger in the jungle as the feeling ensures that we act to ensure we survive by either fighting off the animal, running from the tiger, or freezing.
Anxiety may be a normal response if you heard a tiger roar in the distance while walking through the jungle, as there are a possibility and anticipation of encountering the tiger in the future. The anxiety you experience in this situation makes you more vigilant, cautious, and ready to encounter the danger if it were to manifest. If you did not hear any tiger sounds in the distance, yet still continually worried about encountering one or other potential dangers, the anxiety you felt would not be a helpful response. As you can see, fear and anxiety are appropriate and even helpful in some situations, but in other situations, they do not serve us well and can cause distress. Although these examples include tigers – I’m sure you can think of how these patterns apply to your life, your work life, your social relationships etc.
Understand that anxiety can be a normal feeling, but it can also become a disorder in which anxiety is excessive to the perceived cause and persistent over time. Those with anxiety disorders often develop these conditions in childhood and those that are not treated in childhood tend to experience the disorder into adulthood.