Anxiety is fear of perceived future threats.1 Anything that threatens a structure has the potential to make anyone who cares for it feel anxious. This includes threats to bodily structures, psychological structures, and social structures. The list is endless. The defining point is what people care most about; threats to those things have the potential to induce intense anxiety. People’s perceived inability to cope with a predicted challenge is central to anxiety.2
A Resistant Attachment Style is evidenced as showing strong and reliable correlations with children on a pathway to later anxiety-based emotional health issues.
It’s normal to feel anxiety over one’s ability to manage trying events – referred to as being anxious. Whereas a person who suffers from anxious experiences continually is referred to as suffering from anxiety. People suffering from anxiety for prolonged periods will show signs of stress that have wide reaching neuro-biological, psychological and emotional consequences.
When people perceive an event, they have an emotional reaction to it. Different events elicit different emotional responses. Each emotion is evolutionarily tailored for types of perceived events. Anxiety organises activity in people’s cortex to detect potential threats faster than they would do otherwise.3 For example – excluding brain damage issues, all people detect threatening faces faster than they do friendly or neutral faces, but when people are anxious, they detect threatening faces even faster.4
Anxiety is often experienced as pervasive thoughts of negative outcomes to future events. When intense fear or terror is experienced from anticipating potential threatening events, the fearful outlook influences the way people judge other aspects of their lives. This is called affect-infusion. The negatively affected state of anxiety creates effortful, slow, and vigilant thinking.5 This is an instinctive effect that makes people think about the perceived threat. It aids a successful resolution for the feared situation. Only, if people cannot find a resolution to the perceived threat – especially if it’s an imaginary threat – then this instinctive rumination can trap them in anxiety as they continually refocus attention on a fear they cannot cope with.
In prolonged cases of anxiety, people can forget what they originally perceived as threatening, but their outlook has become biassed towards looking for threats. They habitually try to anticipate negative day-to-day issues. The thoughts may not regard direct life-threatening events, but the thoughts are perceived as negative and concern troubled experiences. This process focuses attention again and again on potential threatening events, whether they are imaginary or not, and it reinforces a continuation of anxiety.
The perceptions may be accurate or inaccurate, true or untrue, but anxiety is felt if the perceptions are believed to be true. A pessimistic view of the world can induce permanent anxiety. Pessimistic people not only sound down and stressed when they speak but are experiencing the anxiety that accompanies their perception of the world. People’s psychological outlook changes their neurotransmitter and hormone levels according to their perceptions. Hence, they feel the biological effects of stress. Pessimistic people are stressed on a biological level.
The simplified psychology is that when people succeed, positive chemicals are released that make them feel glad or joyous. When people fail, the reverse happens and depressive chemicals are released that make them feel sad, slow, and even lethargic.
Human biology is affected by perceptions of success and loss. For example, the feelings that accompany moments of significant success are contrasted with the feelings that accompany a great loss. If people are told that someone they care for has just died in a tragic car accident, the loss will wrench their minds and emotions. The feelings of shock, denial, anger and despair will all be felt in accordance with the full force of a devastating loss. Yet after several hours of agonising emotional turmoil, they are informed that the information received about the death was erroneous. It was a malicious practical joke. Their lives would have been thrown into chaos for those hours. Because they entered the mourning process, they would feel exhausted by the toll of many depressive emotions associated with loss and anxiety from a suddenly transformed future.
Perceptions alter biological dispositions as long as they are believed to be true. In this way, anxiety can be devastating by reducing people’s experience of life through the unseen biological effects of believing bad things will happen.
Serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are two of the neurotransmitters involved in regulating stress. Anti-depressants, alcohol and recreational drugs are commonly used socially, for better or for worse, to try to deal with the effects of anxiety. They stimulate or influence the same parts of the brain that are associated with success and loss, but they usually stimulate positive feelings as if success is being experienced.
People use chemicals to dupe themselves, temporarily, in an attempt to counteract the draining chemical effects that their anxiety has created. This can play havoc with people’s internal perceptual framework as they subconsciously associate the feelings of massive biological success (stimulated by a substance) with everyday activities. The theory is that this skews decision making on a biological level. The biological memories of massive success are associated with mundane activities, and the natural experiential evidence that the subconscious uses becomes corrupted. This then blurs perceptions of success and loss because of erroneous biological information associated with the memories, or somatic markers – subconscious biasses to cognitive decisions based on previous experience.6
States of mind that make people feel helpless or trapped are “psychological environments” conducive for anxiety. Continuous perceptions of looming harms and past failures drip-feed depressive chemicals into people’s bloodstreams and onto their nerves. If prolonged, this stress can accumulate and cause serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, later life decline in physical functioning, and memory loss (see Stress).7
Anxiety is not just an outlook!
Latin. Anxi-us = troubled in mind.
1. Troubled or uneasy in mind about an uncertain event; being in troubled or disturbing suspense, concerned, solicitous.