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What is anxiety, and what does it look like?

Written by: Itzel Ballew, LMFT #101210


Anxiety is part of our survival, it’s a natural human response to fear. Anxiety can look different for everyone, and we all experience anxiety in varying degrees. Some experience anxiety from time to time while others experience it on a more regular basis. Like other emotions, anxiety is trying to give us some information about what we are experiencing.

Anxiety lets us know of anticipated or perceived fear, danger, or harm. Not all anxiety is harmful. Some anxiety can be helpful. For instance, functional anxiety gets us to work on time, and it may even motivate us to deal with challenges or difficult situations. However, long term and/or chronic anxiety can be harmful and impair our ability to cope and function in our daily lives.

Anxiety is internal and commonly described as a persistent uneasiness or apprehension in situations that are not always threatening. For instance, when we are given the task of having to present in front of a large group of people. Someone who experiences moderate to high anxiety symptoms might respond with fear to this situation. This can look like engaging in excessive worrying and negative self-talk (“Everyone is going to laugh at me; I am stupid.” ) and/or have physical symptoms of an illness (feeling sick to their stomach) and can look for a way to get out of doing the requested task.

Anxiety triggers a response from our physical, cognitive, and behavioral system.

  • A common physical response can be an increase in heart rate and muscle tension;

  • Cognitively, you might notice a change in your thinking like excessive worry and/or difficulty concentrating; and

  • Some common reactions or behaviors seen in anxiety include the fight (aggression) or flight (escape) response.

How do you respond to anxiety?

Where in your body do you feel anxiety?

With curiosity, explore what anxiety may be trying to tell you. Recognizing anxiety symptoms can help you engage in relaxation techniques to prevent these symptoms from getting worse.

*Disclaimer: Information provided should not be taken as medical advice or establish a client-therapist relationship. The content is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for treatment by a licensed mental health professional. Consult with your health providers. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis please call USA National Lifeline 800-273-8255.

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