A look at the definition of anxiety. Anxiety can range from a feeling of unease at its mildest, to a panic attack at the most severe end of the spectrum.
The physical symptoms of anxiety attacks can be frightening - in fact, the emotion of fear is central to many people's experiences of anxiety. More about anxiety and fear in a moment. First, let's look at a definition of anxiety.
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What is Anxiety?
The Quick Reference Dictionary for Occupational Therapy, Edited by Jacobs, K. and Jacobs, L. (2004), defines anxiety as:
"Characterized by an overwhelming sense of apprehension; the expectation that something bad is happening or will happen; class of mental disorders characterized by chronic and debilitating anxiety (e.g. generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder)" (pg. 13).
Kaplan, H. and Sadock, B. in the Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry (1996) state that anxiety "is characterized by a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension, often accompanied by autonomic symptoms, such as headache, perspiration, palpitations, tightness in the chest, and mild stomach discomfort" (pg. 189).
They comment that a person who is anxious often feels restless and unable to be still for long.
From these definitions, we can conclude that anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of apprehensiveness. It often includes physical symptoms. If anxiety becomes debilitating and chronic, it may be diagnosable as an anxiety disorder.
So, if the definition of anxiety can be summarized as an unpleasant feeling of apprehensiveness, what does this mean?
Have you ever experienced such a feeling?
Of course you have.
Everyone has experienced anxiety.
All people do have anxiety at one time or another. Anxiety is a normal, human experience.
Kaplan and Sadock say that "the sensation of anxiety is commonly experienced by virtually all humans. ... The particular constellation of symptoms present during anxiety tends to vary among people." (pg. 189)
In other words, we all experience anxiety, but not everyone experiences the same anxiety symptoms in the same way. The signs of anxiety vary greatly.