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What is Anxiety?

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What is Anxiety?

By Vanessa Whitnell, M.ED, LCPC, CADC

Have you ever felt self-conscious being in a crowded room? Has your little one cried and begged you time and time again not to go to school? Does your partner spend an excessive amount of time planning for every worst-case scenario? Have you ever packed 15 pairs of underwear for a 3-day trip? If so, you or your loved one might have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is fear or worry about something that might happen. It tends to be future-focused, consumes our thoughts, and makes our bodies react as if something bad is about to happen. Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling and it can drive us to behave in ways that prevent us from doing things we need to do or would like to do, such as getting a good night’s sleep.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed. Text rev.; DSM–5-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2022) explains that fear is a common trait among anxiety disorders. Fear triggers our body’s response to a threat and makes our thoughts race quicker and our hearts pump faster so we can escape that threat. In the old days, that meant having to run, hide, or fight a saber tooth tiger. Today, that threat might be an upcoming test, having to talk in front of a large crowd, or going to an unfamiliar place. 

Logically, we know that going to a social setting should not make us feel so afraid, but physically, our bodies still react as if we are about to fight that saber tooth tiger right now! When our thoughts do not match our physical reactions, it can make the anxiety even worse. Let’s talk about different anxiety disorders that are listed in the DSM-5-TR (APA, 2022). 

There’s Separation Anxiety Disorder, which is common among children and adults. People who have Separation Anxiety disorder feel high distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or someone they love. 

Social Anxiety Disorder, which used to be called Social Phobia, involves an intense fear of being scrutinized by others in a social setting. Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder worry that others will be able to tell that they are feeling anxious, which heightens their fear of potentially becoming embarrassed, humiliated, rejected, and/or judged. 

Whereas Separation Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder cause significant fear about a specific situation, someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder tends to worry about anything and everything! Common symptoms include:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability or being cranky
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

In my next blog, I will explore the Polyvagal Theory, which states that we have control over making our bodies feel more relaxed by stimulating our vagus nerve.  Using a variety of techniques, this tells our brains to “calm down!” and help shift into a peaceful state.

We at Counseling Works are here to help! If you think you or your loved one could benefit from some individualized treatment for your anxiety, we have several therapists who specialize in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Schedule an appointment today!


American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Anxiety Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.). 


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