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Anxiety is a name for the emotions and body feelings that we experience when we perceive a threat or danger. Anxiety can present in different forms and individuals who are significantly affected may receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for feelings of fear, nervousness, apprehensiveness, or worry. Everybody gets anxious at times and some anxiety actually helps us to function well, but anxiety can become a problem when:

  • It happens too often
  • It goes on for a long time
  • It stops us from doing things that we want to do

Why Is Having Some Anxiety A Good Thing?

Imagine never being anxious or nervous: how would you know how to take care of yourself? How would you know not to run across a busy road? Or to mind your footing when walking along the edge of a cliff? Or to be cautious when approaching a potentially dangerous animal? Feelings of anxiety are designed to make us aware of dangers and are there to guide us to take care of ourselves.

Some people suffering from anxiety want to get rid of their anxiety completely. Although this might sound attractive it would not be a sensible plan. The alertness that comes with anxiety is helpful. Having just the right amount of anxiety and alertness helps us to perform at our best. Think about a sprinter running a race, or a student taking an exam – not enough anxiety/alertness and won’t perform at their best. The graph below shows why having some anxiety is a good thing.

What Types Of Anxiety Are There?

Human beings can feel anxious about an enormous range of things. This can include very specific fears such as a phobia of spiders (specific phobia), fear of other people and how they might react (social anxiety), worry about our health (health anxiety), or a disposition to worry about many topics (generalized anxiety disorder). Psychologists make a distinctions between different types of anxiety ‘disorder’. Each is characterised by a particular type of fear.

Type of Anxiety Description
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) Excessive worry about non-specific life events such as health, finances, work, or relationships. The amount of worry is normally out of proportion to the actual danger.
Health anxiety Worry about our health which causes great distress, to the point where it interferes with everyday life.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) An individual with OCD may have thoughts or images which are intrusive (obsessions), and may feel compelled to carry out actions to relieve the accompanying anxiety (compulsions).
Panic attacks and panic disorder Sudden feelings of terror and doom which may seem to occur ‘out of the blue’. Attacks are typically fairly short-lived but can be re-triggered and last for longer periods.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) PTSD follows a traumatic life event where the individual felt that their life or bodily integrity was in danger, or witnessed something similar. As well as an ongoing sense of threat that lasts beyond the end of the actual danger, PTSD is accompanied by vivid memories of the event replaying in the person’s mind.
Social anxiety disorder (Social phobia) A type of phobia specific to social situations. People with social phobia are afraid that other people will think badly of them (fear of negative evaluation) and so they take steps to prevent this from happening.
Specific phobia Fear of a specific object, animal, or situation. The individual may know that their fear is irrational or out of proportion. The individual tries to avoid the feared object or situation.