What We Mean by Anxiety : How This Differs from Fear

Anxiety sufferer

Over my time working as a psychotherapist, I have noticed that the number of people being diagnosed with anxiety related problems appears to be on the rise. Apparently in 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK and it is now believed that 1 in 3 of us are likely to suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder in our lifetime. I am interested in what may lie behind such an increase.

However, first it might be useful to define what we mean by anxiety and how if at all this might differ from fear. Obviously, opinions differ concerning how we might define anxiety, but in this blog we will define anxiety as an unpleasant emotion of inner turmoil resulting from feelings of dread over anticipated events. It differs from fear in that fear is concerned with an immediate real or perceived threat. In this sense anxiety is about the future whereas fear is about the present.

Anxiety, does this differ to fear?

Although, in actual fact, both are activating our internal stress (flight/flight) response but with fear it is likely be due to an external stressor, and with anxiety it is likely to be due to our own thought processes.

Thinking in terms of stress may give us clues as to why anxiety is on the increase. We now live in an increasingly stressful world. Children in primary school are expected to perform to meet targets set by successive governments. University graduates now leave university saddled with substantial debt.
Buying a house is becoming increasingly beyond the reach of more and more people. In the workplace, in many jobs there is often a drive to improve productivity and increase profit. In some work areas there is much greater competition for jobs. In our leisure time we are bombarded by information and demands, whether through our tv, our mobile phone, iPad. These are far above what previous generations experienced.

If we look at the evolutionary advantage of anxiety, it is easy to see that there can be some real benefits in having a system that makes us look at possible consequences in the future so that we can take action to avoid those that are more problematic. However, with the increase in stress and when we are continually being bombarded by stimuli we can see how this system can become overloaded and rather that being a helpful capacity becomes a state of disorder.

Combatting anxiety and unhelpful thinking patterns

Some might think that people just need to “man up” but here I would point to the increasing levels of depression in our society as the result of such an approach! So, what can we do? As is often the case with mental health issues we first need to make some time and space for ourselves, and sometimes even from ourselves. Getting outside can help, as well as doing regular exercise, particularly a sport that absorbs us. Meditation is a way that many people learn to differentiate unhelpful thinking patterns from those that are more supportive.

Counselling and psychotherapy can also help people come to terms with and deal with how they create anxiety for themselves! If you are wishing to speak to someone from the Link Centre team, please do get in touch.