What is Anxiety?

I have created these pages to try and shed some light on the question "What is anxiety". There have been a lot of different perceptions about the phenomenon and way too often is anxiety confused with stress.

Anxiety is a somewhat difficult thing to understand. It is not really basic fear and it is not really basic stress - but it can be related to both... Click here for more info on the differences between stress and anxiety.


... The best way to visualize and talk about anxiety is with the help of some kind of traumatic experience. An event that has left a mark on a person's psyche (mind). The most intuitive definition is given by the free medical dictionary - I have shortened it down a bit:

"Anxiety is a multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger. [...] As far as we know, anxiety is a uniquely human experience. Other animals clearly know fear, but human anxiety involves an ability, to use memory and imagination to move backward and forward in time, that animals do not appear to have" the Free Medical Dicitonary

Anxiety is not something we all have, but we all have fear(s). Fear can develop into anxiety and may show itself in a sudden anxiety attack or more slowly through stress. Having anxieties can be very stressful. Read more here.

What is Anxiety from an Emotional Perspective?

From the definition I've included above it shows that our brain plays a big role in anxieties. Fear triggers a stress response of fight-or-flight; the body prepares itself. But anxiety is only when we are to some extend debilitated (unable to do certain things) by it.

The anxiety sets in when we use our cognitive processes (thinking and remembering) to act upon a dangerous event.

As an example with a traumatic event; think of a soldier coming home from war with the mental battle scars that comes with it. This soldier might be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) or not, the point is that something (in this case a traumatic experience in war) has altered his or her response to danger: Instead of being able to decode the fight-or-flight response, the soldier is overwhelmed in certain situations leaving him or her in a state of constant fear, known as anxiety.

What is Anxiety Physically?

Physically anxiety can have many different signs and symptoms. Many of them look like the physical signs of stress which also may be the reason why the two are often mistaken for one another.

Go here for more info on the Symptoms of Anxiety and learn to recognize them.

When anxiety occurs, most experience it physically as numbness in the body often along with the other symptoms/effects.

The numbness is a result of over-readiness produced by the stress response in your body. The response is there to save your life and is in itself a good thing. But the response can be triggered by more than just the direct fear.

A constant state of readiness will drain the body of resources resulting in no surplus energy (produced by a stress response) - that is what is often perceived as numbness.

Go from What is Anxiety to Anxiety Stress.