What is Anxiety

What is anxiety?

We often hear about the concept of anxiety in all kinds of circumstances; in the news, when shopping, at work, in interpersonal relationships, in sports, etc. It is present both in the media and in everyday conversations.

It is often used incorrectly and indiscriminately. This makes it difficult for us to know precisely what anxiety is. However, the definition of anxiety can be differentiated from others used in similar contexts, such as stress or depression.

Anxiety means “an emotional state triggered by the anticipation of danger or threat”. It is a basic and not a primary emotion (such as joy, anger or sadness) because it lacks its own characteristics. For example, it shares traits with fear, such as the activation of unpleasant thoughts related to our safety.

Having anxiety means that we are facing an emotional reaction composed of a confusing mix of feelings and cognitive biases without a specific stimulus being present; like a spider or a cliff right in front of us.

We all feel anxiety in our lives, although it doesn’t always become a problem that causes us discomfort. The symptoms of anxiety are common in a society as busy as ours.

Below we will look at both its negative aspects and those that are most beneficial to us. Discover how to manage this emotion to improve your quality of life.

Difference between anxiety and stress

The concept of anxiety is often mixed with that of stress. Both processes are inherent to our daily life, they prepare us to face our challenges, they can lead to health problems, they produce a high physiological activation and they are triggered by similar situations; such as the exam period.

However, these words are not synonymous. Anxiety is an emotion and stress is not. Likewise, stress is usually triggered by a stimulus that is present while anxiety is not.

Anxiety: Causes

In order to know clearly what anxiety is, it is necessary to take into account that it interacts with other features of our personality (neuroticism or introversion, according to Eysenck), such as those we inherit or those due to the environment. There are several factors that lead us to face this emotion more or less.

The explanation for anxiety is multicausal. Its various components and triggers interact with each other and affect our interpretation of anxiety. These are the origins that explain the most frequent causes of anxiety:

  • Learning: Throughout our lives, we learn from personal experience, through comments from others or through observation (social learning theory) that certain situations, such as being unemployed, are threats or dangers to us. For example, strong associations of ideas can be established in childhood that produce this emotional reaction much later. In fact, this period is very important for our emotional learning.
  • Mental patterns and unpleasant thoughts: Thinking about situations that produce discomfort, regardless of whether they are past, present or future, accentuates the perception of dangers or threats. Whether they are real or fictitious, it is the individual’s cognitive processes that are relevant.
  • Expectations of hazards or threats: Considering the possibility that an unpleasant event, such as illness, the possibility of being criticized by others, coming into contact with a dangerous animal or an economic loss, may occur triggers this emotional state.
  • Perception of physiological disturbances: If we notice something unusual in our body, such as tachycardia or tremors, and we do not know why, it is very likely that anxious reactions will occur. On the other hand, the abusive consumption of alcohol, hallucinogenic substances or other elements that affect our physiological activation, are part of those responsible for this state.

Anxiety: Consequences

What is anxiety? When we are faced with anxiety, our body reacts in order to prepare us to solve a problem. It usually has no adverse effects. It helps us do our best in situations like job interviews. However, feeling anxiety too often leads to consequences like these.

  • Memory problems
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Digestive problems
  • Changes in metabolism
  • Sexual problems
  • Difficulties in social relations

Types of anxiety disorders and their characteristics

What is clinical and general anxiety? The difference between clinical anxiety and general anxiety is based on a question of degree. That is, there is a very fine line between a healthy emotional reaction in our lives and the definition of negative anxiety related to serious psychological problems. Nevertheless, the disorders can be detected thanks to tools such as questionnaires.

What Is Clinical Anxiety? Clinical anxiety is the pathological anxiety that causes maladaptive responses, such as being incarcerated at home because of social anxiety. In fact, anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychopathologies.

Generalized anxiety disorder

What is generalized anxiety disorder? People with it are extremely worried and react with anxiety to a wide variety of stimuli, not just the common ones.

Their worries are persistent, irrational, intense and hinder people’s functioning in various areas of their lives. To diagnose this disorder, symptoms must be present for at least six months and at least half the days.

Specific phobias

Phobias are exorbitant fears of certain stimuli. There is a great variety of specific phobias (whose object is certain situations or objects); nictophobia, hematophobia, phobia of heights, phobia of planes, etc.


It’s an irrational fear of public places for fear of being trapped in them. It takes place in places like the streets, theaters, markets, or parks. Agoraphobes fear that they cannot escape from these places, not the specific spaces. In the most severe cases, people with this disorder may even lock themselves in their homes.

Social Anxiety

It is a phobia characterized by an excessive fear of relationships with other people. People with this phobia feel disproportionate anxiety in situations such as public speaking, comments from others or conversations with strangers.

Panic disorder

It causes unexpected and repeated panic attacks (or panic attacks) that start suddenly. Its main symptoms include fear of dying or going crazy, palpitations, sweating, breathing difficulties, chest pain, dizziness, chills, paresthesias, blurred vision, unrealization, shaking or nausea. They last approximately ten minutes. People who suffer from it often develop anxiety about the places or circumstances they associate with their attacks.

Substance or drug-induced anxiety disorder

What is substance-induced anxiety disorder? It is mainly characterized by the appearance of anxiety crises related to the use of cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, anxiolytics, hallucinogens or any other substance capable of causing anxiety.

Separation anxiety disorder

What is separation anxiety disorder? It involves reacting with excessive anxiety to the separation from a person with whom you have a deep bond or from your home. These are disproportionate responses that cause intense distress to those affected and are significantly disabling to them.

Selective mutism

This disorder occurs exclusively at early ages. It lies in the recurrent inability to speak in the presence of others in certain situations. On the other hand, affected children speak and develop normally in other contexts such as the family.

It should be noted that anxiety is present in most psychological or organic disorders. For example, it is common in depression or eating disorders. However, here we have focused on those disorders whose main characteristic is anxiety.