There are many variations of these patterns, and these are generally diagnosed as some kind of ‘anxiety disorder’. Doctors use definitions for different kinds of anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and so on. Personally I do not like the term ‘anxiety disorder’ since it implies the person has worried themselves sick, and that the disorder is entirely mental in origin, ignoring physical factors. While this may be the case for some, there are other causes and for those people the diagnosis of ‘anxiety disorder’ is confusing and makes no sense to them. I prefer Claire Weekes’s term ‘sensitised nervous system’, or even ‘sympathetic dominance’, a term that is sometimes used to describe the imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. I believe that so-called ‘anxiety disorders’ are nervous system disorders rather than psychological or psychiatric disorders. Of course, there is usually a psychological component, which can work to lock us into a self-perpetuating anxiety cycle. I believe that when addressing these disorders, it is important to include both mental and physical approaches. We need to find ways to break the anxiety cycle, and to restore the right autonomic balance.
So what exactly is this thing we call anxiety? I suggest that there is more than one meaning for the term ‘anxiety’. I will outline here three common meanings:
Meaning 1: ‘Anxiety’ is a term commonly used to describe an emotion or feeling that results from worrying about something. When we are thinking worrisome thoughts, anxiety is the emotion that goes with them. Worrisome thoughts often begin with ‘what if’, and are usually focussed on some potential negative future event or situation.
It would be wrong to think of all anxiety as a really bad thing. A little bit of worry about the future can help us to be prepared, to assess risks and take action to avoid undesirable consequences. For example, I might pay a bill on time because I am worried about getting a fine or late penalty if I don’t. A little bit of ‘what if’ thinking can be useful when evaluating risks and making plans of action to avoid negative outcomes. In evolutionary terms, if humans had never worried about anything, they may not have survived, so it can be a useful survival tool. If it is over-used, it can cause problems, ranging in severity from mild to severe.
Meaning 2: Sometimes a person may experience what is known as an ‘anxiety attack’. These are also known as ‘panic attacks’ (although some people might argue that they are slightly different, usually that a panic attack is more severe, but essentially they are the same thing). An attack involves an episode of unpleasant symptoms, both physical and psychological, which can vary a lot, but are usually the same or similar to the body’s fear response. They can be brief or last a long time. They can be mild or moderate or severe in intensity. They may be one-off, or repeated, or ongoing. There can be many different causes and contributing factors, both physical and psychological. Basically, an anxiety attack is more than just worrying and feeling anxious, it is a nervous system response that seems like extreme fear or terror. I will go into more detail on these in later posts.
Meaning 3: Some people are diagnosed with what is termed an ‘anxiety disorder’, usually when they are experiencing ongoing anxiety attacks. This term tends to imply that the person has literally ‘worried themselves sick’. In some cases, anxiety disorders can result at least partly from excessive worrying, however the disorder can have other causes and contributing factors, both ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’. They can develop slowly over time, or suddenly after a traumatic event. It can be very confusing for someone who hasn’t been worrying much to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It can also be confusing for the person’s family and friends who also assume that the person became ill from worrying too much. I believe the term ‘anxiety disorder’ is rather a misnomer and there are other, more useful names that could be used instead (more on this later).
The difference: Although anxiety the emotion and anxiety attacks and disorders can be closely related they are not the same. Every human being experiences anxiety (the emotion) sometimes. Even people who seem confident and fearless usually harbour some inner secret fears and worries. An anxiety attack is an exaggerated fear response, it does not feel normal. It causes a person to feel out of balance and distressed. Even more so when the attacks are ongoing and become a ‘disorder’. In this blog I will mainly be discussing anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders, although I will be including worry and anxiety as they relate to anxiety disorders.
To summarise, the word anxiety can mean:
Welcome to my brand new blog! I have started this blog to talk about anxiety attacks, anxiety disorders and other related stuff such as panic attacks, hyperventilation, and so on, particularly any tools, techniques and tips that can help with these conditions. Basically, any kind of ‘stuff’ related to anxiety, hence the blog name.
I am not a medical professional but an ordinary person who has experienced anxiety attacks and learned a lot along the way. I am hoping that sharing what I have learned in this blog may be helpful to you in your own learning journey. Of course, everyone’s experience is individual, so take what is useful to you and ignore what isn’t. To find out more about me, please read my About page.
There are many anxiety-related resources already on the web, so why create another one? Well, there are several reasons for this. I believe that learning the same things in different ways from different people helps to deepen understanding. It can help to consolidate our prior learning, building our conceptual understanding. Sometimes something unclear becomes clearer when someone describes something in a slightly different way using different words. Some of my ideas might be starting points or triggers for your own investigations. Also, the web is now a vast place and it may be that you haven’t yet stumbled across the most useful resources for you. I will be mentioning resources I think are useful, so my blog might be your pathway or connection to these.
Whether my blog is read by one person or one million, if it can help even one person in some small way, I will consider it a success! So welcome, and please subscribe and add your comments!
All kinds of stuff about anxiety attacks and things that help - written by an ordinary person who has experienced anxiety attacks and learned a lot along the way.
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