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What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be described in different ways. In a definition, however, it is often difficult to describe all mechanisms which have to do with anxiety. To keep it short and clear, we decided to give you the following often-used definition of anxiety:

Anxiety is an emotion caused by a perceived or experienced danger, which often leads to an avoidance or evasion thereof.

Thus, anxiety is the response which you showcase in a situation which makes you anxious. In such a confrontation you will experience major emotions, which can lead to avoidance of the situation. For example, if you have a fear of open places, you will start to avoid these after a while and stay at home as often as you can, as open spaces make you feel anxious.

Why do we experience anxiety?

Anxiety dates back to prehistoric times and is a result of a mechanism of nature. This mechanism used to help us in the past to survive dangerous situations. So, if one were to be confronted with a dangerous situation, anxiety helps the body to respond more quickly, thereby increasing chances of survival. As opposed to, for example, depression, anxiety has thus been with us since birth to help us to survive. Anxiety, however, has lost its goal throughout the ages. As mentioned, anxiety helped us to survive in prehistoric times. In modern society on the other hand, we are hardly ever confronted with dangerous situations. Now, instead, we are anxious in situations which we find to be important, yet which are not dangerous. For example, you cannot be late at an important meeting. The thought of being late can then cause symptoms of anxiety. Being late to a meeting in itself is not a dangerous situation. Thus, the original idea of anxiety has been lost.

What is the cause of anxiety?

If anxiety is something which everyone is born with, then why do some people have an anxiety disorder while others do not? You need to know that all people are at risk of developing an anxiety disorder, because everyone is born with anxiety. However, this does not mean that everyone will actually develop an anxiety disorder. Except for the predisposition, there are other factors necessary in order to create an anxiety disorder.

Predisposition + situation + coping style

Except for the predisposition for fear, which everybody has, a certain situation or happening is needed, which can trigger a link between this situation and anxiety. This situation needs to be so shocking that people will think about the situation or that it in some way remains in their thoughts. But even the combination of a predisposition and a shocking event will not automatically lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. To this, ‘coping style’ needs to be added. This means that it is important how you handle the situation and how you choose to process the situation. This choice can either lead to healthy anxiety or to unhealthy anxiety.

A metaphor as to why anxiety develops

To differentiate between the original goal of anxiety and an anxiety disorder, we here show you a metaphor regarding how an anxiety disorder might develop.

Anxiety disorders are like excessive eating. Humans are pre-programmed to survive by eating. From the beginning of time, humans have been eating food. If we do not eat, we die. In prehistoric times there was never any left-over food, and people ate what they needed to. If they caught a large animal, which could serve as food for several days, they actually spread out this food over several days. This was a survival technique. As society developed, more and more food became available. Because of this excess supply, some people suffer from being overweight, which in extreme cases even can lead to death. Even though we originally knew what and how much we needed, so that we could ration the rest, this is no longer the way it works. We eat when we want to, we eat things which are unhealthy, and we eat too much. Anxiety is, just like food and eating, pre-programmed in order to help us survive. When we encounter a danger, our body prepares to react to this danger by causing an anxiety reaction. Anxiety will sometimes make it so that we can escape danger, or fight back even harder. Society evolved into a safe society, where we are hardly ever confronted with true fear. This makes it so that our natural mechanism sometimes is triggered by something which is not a real danger, such as being in public places. A public place will not endanger your life. In this way, something which is natural and originally had a healthy function, is used in a wrongful way, making it unhealthy.

What if anxiety develops further?

Unhealthy anxiety can have a large influence on your life. It will stop you from doing the things which you want to do, from feeling happy, and even from doing daily tasks. Even the smallest things can be influenced by anxiety. For example, people who do not dare to leave the house find it problematic to buy groceries, which can be difficult especially when you want to cook. In short, your anxiety controls your entire life.

Many people with anxiety no longer have the feeling that they can make decisions in their lives anymore. It feels like the anxiety has taken over. Many people with anxiety are also aware that their anxiety is unreal and that they should not feel anxiety in certain situations, yet they can still not stop the anxiety. It happens to them, and they do not know what to do about it.

Fear of fear?

The more the anxiety develops, the more consequences of anxiety you will experience. For example, it often happens that people become anxious about experiencing the symptoms of anxiety. They find the hyperventilation so awful that a fear of fear is created. You are then actually fearful when it comes to experiencing fear. As you notice, this is a type of vicious cycle, which has a large influence on your happiness and daily life. After a while, you will thus become anxious when thinking of symptoms of anxiety or when you think of the anxiety itself. You will therefore no longer be able to do what you want to do or complete daily tasks. For example, someone who fears public places cannot go to the shop to buy groceries, because they are too anxious. This can make it so that they have nothing at home to cook with, which can be very annoying. If you then also know that you did have the chance but that your anxiety controls your life, you can become very frustrated.

Which are the most important consequences of anxiety?

Anxiety can have many consequences. It can influence your happiness, self-image, and general happiness. Oftentimes, people with anxiety have the feeling that they lost control over their lives. This can lead to a low self-image or depression. Because you feel like you have lost control over your life, many people believe that it is difficult to treat anxiety. This, however, is not true. You can break out of the vicious cycle of anxiety and re-gain happiness. This way, you will once again believe in your own capacities, so that you are the boss of your own life again.

Test you anxiety?

If you want to know more about your anxiety symptoms and to what extent these influence your happiness and daily life, you can fill out the free anxiety test here. This test can tell you more about the severity of your anxiety, and what could be a suitable treatment method.

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