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On Anxiety, part II. Anxiety is a learned bodily fearful response to our internal emotional experiences, and is NOT a fear of what actually happens in the reality. Anxiety can be triggered by either negative, or positive, or mixed emotions. Roughly speaking, anxiety is a learned fear of our honest complex feelings.

Surprisingly many people have difficulty understanding what anxiety really is, even if they read psychology books and were in therapy before. While many are aware of the physical sensations that come with it (symptoms) and the avoidance behaviours that may follow it (maladaptive coping), most people struggle to explain the psychological meaning of it.

Melbourne Health Psychology Centre’s psychologist Valeria Zoteyeva explains anxiety in the following way:

Anxiety is a bodily fearful response to the internal stimuli (such as feelings, pain, or thoughts), and is experienced in a form of fear, tension, different kinds of pain, weakness, nausea, changes in vision, or difficulties to think and stay present.”

Even though it is often experienced as fear – anxiety is different from it. Fear signals about the presence of danger and indicates the presence of the actual external threat to us. Anxiety on the other hand is a fear of our internal reactions to the external situations that trigger it. Actually, it is important to know the difference between the fear and anxiety, because when we stay in a state of what is experienced as constant fear (which doesn’t make much sense to us) – we risk missing the actual danger signals.”

“Surprisingly, anxiety can be triggered not only by negative experiences, but also the positive ones, and most often – it is triggered by mixed emotions, such as, feeling frustrated at someone we love.”

“If you notice that there is any kind of fear that accompanies your positive experiences, it is most likely because your subconscious mind learned to connect some of your positive feelings with negative experience (e.g. you felt rejected when you did better than others) and to fear them as a result. The fear of something that happened in the past, but is not happening now is anxiety. I think that it is unfortunate when anxiety affects our lives, because we usually work hard to get good things and moments of joy and pride are too precious to be spoiled by unwarranted fears.”

“In a way, anxiety can also seen as our fear of being honest with ourselves about what certain circumstances mean for us personally. I think, and the vast majority of my clients agrees with it, that it is always better to know the reality for what it is, rather than to live in fear of knowing the truth.

It might sound strange but for quite a few people feeling anxious feels like a safer and better alternative than being able to be present, confident and emotionally free individual, or even than just being present to enjoy the moment! This is, of course, not a conscious choice, but an automatic learned response to our internal reactions. 

It is very important to remember that anxiety is always triggered internally: because when people think that anxiety is a reaction to the external stimuli they bypass a very important and personally meaningful information.
We firmly believe that understanding anxiety is crucial for both physical and psychological health, because difficulty to make sense of own internal experiences handicaps person’s healing and significantly exacerbates their health problems.

To read the introduction to anxiety problems click here and to read about things which might be helpful to consider when getting treatment for anxiety here. Let us know if you have any further questions and we will do our best to answer them. 

Valeria Zoteyeva, Health Psychologist
This post is an intellectual property of the Melbourne Health Psychology Centre (c) 2019


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