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what is anxiety

What is Anxiety? A Psychologists Answer

Table of Contents

Anxiety transcends mere temporary worry or fear; it’s a pervasive experience that can deeply influence one’s life. Dr. Messina & Associates is committed to shedding light on this complex condition, offering guidance and support to those who find themselves grappling with its challenges. Our mission is to help you navigate through the nuances of anxiety, providing a foundation of understanding and the tools for management.

What Exactly is Anxiety?

Anxiety is characterized by an enduring sense of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Distinguishing itself from the normal stress response to life’s pressures, anxiety lingers and often escalates over time, affecting daily functioning and well-being.

The Many Faces of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders form a category of mental health diagnoses that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. These disorders alter how a person processes emotions and behaves, also causing physical symptoms. Major types include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This involves persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events, even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control, and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic Disorder: Characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, this disorder involves sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking; and feeling of impending doom.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: This condition involves high levels of anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Agoraphobia: This is the fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong. Many people associate agoraphobia with a fear of open spaces, but it can also involve fear of being in crowded places, public transport, or simply being outside the home.
  • Specific Phobias: These are intense fears of a specific object or situation, such as heights, flying, spiders, or receiving injections. The level of fear is usually inappropriate to the situation and can cause individuals to avoid ordinary situations.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: Though often thought of as something only children deal with, adults can also suffer from separation anxiety, which is a fear of being away from home or loved ones. It’s characterized by excessive worry about losing those to whom the individual is attached or concern that something bad will happen to them.
  • Selective Mutism: A complex anxiety disorder characterized by an individual’s inability to speak in specific social situations, despite being able to speak comfortably in others. It typically affects children, who are able to speak normally at home but not in school or community settings.
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder: This form of anxiety is directly caused by the effects of drugs, the withdrawal from drugs, or exposure to toxic substances. Symptoms of intense anxiety or panic are a direct result of substance use, abuse, intoxication, or withdrawal.
  • Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Anxiety symptoms can be a direct physiological result of a medical condition. This diagnosis is used when anxiety is a significant component of the medical condition, and not merely a reaction to it.

Understanding the wide array of anxiety disorders is crucial for recognizing how they can uniquely impact an individual’s life. The specific type of anxiety disorder not only influences the kind of symptoms that may be experienced but also guides the most effective treatment strategies.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Recognizing anxiety isn’t just about identifying how you feel emotionally. It’s also about noticing physical signs and understanding how your body responds to stress. Symptoms can include:

  • Physical Symptoms: Anxiety’s grip often tightens through physical symptoms, making its presence known through the body’s distress signals. Common manifestations include heart palpitations, a hallmark of anxiety’s rush, and restlessness, a relentless inability to find peace or comfort. These symptoms are joined by muscle tension, a pervasive sense of being on edge, difficulty breathing, and insomnia, painting a picture of a body in constant alert.
  • Emotional Symptoms: Beyond the physical, anxiety weaves into the emotional and cognitive realms. It manifests as excessive worry, a mind ensnared by fear of what might be, and an overarching sense of dread about the future. This worry is often disproportionate to the actual threat or sometimes completely unfounded. Anxiety also brings about difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and an irrational perception of situations, further complicating daily life.

Diagnosing anxiety involves a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional, taking into account both physical symptoms and emotional distress. At Dr. Messina & Associates, our approach is thorough, compassionate, and personalized, ensuring we understand the full scope of your experience to tailor the most effective treatment plan.

Diagnosis Process

At Dr. Messina & Associates, diagnosing anxiety is a process undertaken with sensitivity and thoroughness. It begins with a comprehensive evaluation, where we listen intently to your experiences, symptoms, and the specific ways anxiety impacts your life. We may use standardized assessment tools and questionnaires designed to measure the severity and presence of anxiety-related symptoms. Understanding your medical history, including any family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions, is also a critical part of our assessment. Our goal is to paint a complete picture of your mental health, ensuring a diagnosis that truly reflects your experience.

Causes and Risk Factors

Genetic Factors

The roots of anxiety often extend into the genetic, with evidence suggesting a hereditary component to anxiety disorders. If a close family member has struggled with anxiety, the likelihood of experiencing similar challenges is higher, pointing to the intricate web of genetics at play.

Environmental Factors

Life’s environmental stressors, from high-pressure work environments to significant life changes or trauma, also play a pivotal role in the development of anxiety. These factors can trigger or exacerbate anxiety symptoms, highlighting the complex interplay between our external world and internal states.

Combination of Factors

More often than not, anxiety emerges from a blend of genetic predispositions and environmental influences. This combination underscores the multifaceted nature of anxiety, where both innate characteristics and life experiences contribute to its manifestation.

Impact of Anxiety on Daily Life

The reach of anxiety extends deeply into daily life, affecting relationships, job performance, and overall life satisfaction. Its pervasive worry can strain personal connections, while its physical symptoms can hinder professional endeavors and personal ambitions. Anxiety’s shadow can darken the enjoyment of social activities, creating a barrier to engagement and fulfillment.

Contact Us in Southlake for Help with Anxiety and Related Symptoms

At Dr. Messina & Associates, we recognize the profound effects anxiety can have on your life. Our approach is designed to address both the symptoms and the underlying causes, offering a path towards healing that considers the whole person. Through personalized therapy, support, and guidance, we’re here to help you reclaim your life from the grips of anxiety, paving the way for a future defined by peace and resilience.


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Dr. Michael Messina

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