Anxiety Defined

Anxiety, Dealing with anxiety, Growth Resources, Personal Development




It has been said that “Of all the unpleasant emotions, anxiety probably ranks as the most common.”

(I think the emotion we just covered – fear – gives it a pretty good run for the money. In fact, so closely are the two linked that early on, anxiety and fear were considered as one. Freud was the first to separate them.

Though you might be hard pressed to define anxiety, I’d say one thing is certain – you know how it feels. We all do. But having said that, let’s see if we can bring a bit of definition to our subject.

Anxiety is the experience of inner turmoil, arising from the anticipation of a future event, encounter, or experience resulting in varying degrees of discomfort, pain, and misery.

Ironically, perhaps the most prevalent cause for anxiety is the worry over becoming anxious!

Anxiety generates powerful feelings. The most common emotions arising from anxiety include worry, dread, tension, fear, and apprehension.

While both males and females experience anxiety, according to the DSM-5* the phenomenon is found in females twice as frequently as in males.


Like most all things psychological, whether one experiences abnormal anxiety is a matter of extent, of degree.

Anxiety is normal in life, given the right sort of context. If you’ve ever taken an important exam or taken boards for your profession – then you have likely experienced anxiety. If you’ve ever asked a prospective father-in-law for his blessing in marrying his daughter, likewise. Preparing for that “must have” job interview usually causes anxiousness as does remembering that you have a dental appointment tomorrow at noon.

My family and I are big University of Tennessee football fans. When it’s the day of an important game we are all geeked with anxiety. I remember our home just prior to our National Championship game with Florida State in 1998. The anxiety level around here was through the roof! And although we won the game and took great fun in that fact, to a person we said that the game itself was not very pleasurable. The stakes were such that the anxiety took the fun out of the night. (Until the conclusion, that is!)


[su_quote]Anxiety is the experience of inner turmoil, arising from the anticipation of a future event, encounter, or experience resulting in varying degrees of discomfort, pain, and misery.[/su_quote]

Normal anxieties come and go as we move through life. But these are not our concern here.

Problematic anxieties and anxiety disorders differ in two key ways from the normal mood stressors of life. They differ in scope and in degree. So let’s look at these:

Scope – People with problematic anxiety become anxious in situations and circumstances that most navigate with little or no distress. Going to the mall, being alone, sleeping in a tent, attending a gathering, engaging in a potentially difficult conversation, or public speaking – these are just some examples of experiences that anxiety sufferers struggle with.

Degree – Those whose lives are disrupted by anxiety typically experience intensity in their episodes. An experience that may cause someone a little discomfort can threaten to overtake the life of the anxious individual. Often, there is little respite or peace until the situation is over.


Remember what I said above about our family not really enjoying the National Championship game because the stakes were so high? For those who suffer from anxiety, that is an ongoing problem. The anxious person experiences the problematic thing as something with incredibly high stakes. And very little comfort comes from the fact that their rational mind tells them they are doing precisely that – making the proverbial mountain out of the equally proverbial molehill.

Rational knowledge that he or she is “blowing this out of proportion” and irrationally experiencing the event brings no peace.

Anxiety is a pervasive problem. I am not talking about its prevalence in society, though that too is high. What I mean is, it affects every aspect of one’s being – thinking, feeling, behavior, body, and spirit.

We will explore all this and more in future blogs.


Dr Michael Ruth, Growth Resources, Personal Growth

*DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. DSM-5 is the principal handbook used by health care professionals in the United States for the diagnosis of mental disorders.