Anxiety is a state of emotional and physical disturbance induced in a person by a real or imagined threat. In psychiatry the term refers to disturbances caused by threats that are only apparent to the patient and cause him to behave in a way that is not relevant to the true situation. Many psychiatric schools define anxiety more narrowly, based on the theories of its cause.
Anxiety may arise in a specific situation that the person seeks to avoid. Such a state is called a phobia. More often, however, the person experiences a persistent feeling of dread and is said to suffer from free-floating anxiety. A phobia is often an exaggerated form of free-floating anxiety.
Causes of Anxiety
Sigmund Freud developed the theory that anxiety arises when the memory of certain childhood experiences or emotions is so intolerable that it is repressed, or forced from the person’s consciousness. The memory is kept in his unconscious by defense reactions (attitudes that are developed to continue repressing the anxiety) provoking thought. According to Freud, the unconscious memory, along with the resulting defense reactions, forms a complex, which can only be unraveled by psychoanalysis.
In contrast to Freud’s theory, the behaviorists theory states that anxiety is a learned reaction that develops when the emotion evoked by a frightening event is generalized, or attached to surrounding circumstances. Sometimes generalization includes even remotely related circumstances. For example, a child bitten by a dog in a flower bed may thereafter be afraid of any flower bed.
Symptoms of Anxiety
One of the commonest emotional symptoms of anxiety is a feeling of constriction. The person may also feel far away from reality or other people, and he may become depressed, agitated, or unable to concentrate. Physiological symptoms include palpitations, pounding in the head, profuse sweating, and tightness of the chest. In addition, anxiety is almost always accompanied by increased muscle tension, which may cause headache, tiredness, overbreathing (hyperventilation), and various aches and pains.