We live in a fast-changing world of political, economic, and environmental uncertainty, so it’s no wonder we experience anxiety. Whether this is about recovering from the pandemic, the rising cost of living, or declining public services, there’s plenty to worry about. This is backed up by Psychologists, who report an 80% increase in anxiety disorders since the pandemic.
Although related, fear and anxiety are not exactly the same. Fear is a response to an immediate threat and has always been critical for survival. A snake suddenly appears on the path, and we directly experience fear. Anxiety tends to be indirect and is often about anticipating a future threat, which may, or may not occur.
One of the reasons why anxiety is so easily triggered is that our brains evolved to prioritise threat and survival needs over more pleasant experiences. This in-built bias means that we use more internal resources, including how we store events in memory, to process threats than more pleasant experiences. Like other emotions, anxiety includes physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. For instance, when we’re anxious we may have sweaty palms, muscle tension, “butterflies” in the stomach, experience worrying thoughts, feel nervous and panicky and avoid situations that make us feel anxious.