Anxiety is a physiological state characterized by cognitive, somatic, emotional, and behavioral components (Seligman, Walker & Rosenhan, 2001). These components combine to create the feelings that we typically recognize as fear, apprehension, or worry. Anxiety is often accompanied by physical sensations such as heart palpitations, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches, or headache. The cognitive component entails expectation of a diffuse and uncertain danger. Somatically the body prepares the organism to deal with threat (known as an emergency reaction): blood pressure and heart rate are increased, sweating is increased, bloodflow to the major muscle groups is increased, and immune and digestive system functions are inhibited. Externally, somatic signs of anxiety may include pale skin, sweating, trembling, and pupillary dilation. Emotionally, anxiety causes a sense of dread or panic and physically causes nausea, and chills. Behaviorally, both voluntary and involuntary behaviors may arise directed at escaping or avoiding the source of anxiety and often maladaptive, being most extreme in anxiety disorders. However, anxiety is not always pathological or maladaptive: it is a common emotion along with fear, anger, sadness, and happiness, and it has a very important function in relation to survival.
Neural circuitry involving the amygdala and hippocampus is thought to underlie anxiety (Rosen & Schulkin, 1998). When confronted with unpleasant and potentially harmful stimuli such as foul odors or tastes, PET-scans show increased bloodflow in the amygdala (Zald & Pardo, 1997; Zald, Hagen & Pardo, 2002). In these studies, the participants also reported moderate anxiety. This might indicate that anxiety is a protective mechanism designed to prevent the organism from engaging in potentially harmful behaviors.
Types of anxiety
Theologians like Paul Tillich and psychologists like Sigmund Freud have characterized anxiety as the reaction to what Tillich called, "The trauma of nonbeing." That is, the human comes to realize that there is a point at which he or she might cease to be (die), and their encounter with reality becomes characterized by anxiety. Religion, according to both Tillich and Freud, then becomes a carefully crafted coping mechanism in response to this anxiety since they redefine death as the end of only the corporal part of human personal existence, assuming an immortal soul. What then becomes of this soul and through what criteria is the cardinal difference of various religious faiths.
Philosophical ruminations are a part of this condition, and this is part of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are typically about sex and religion or death. However, truly rational philosophical thinking is usually driven by a desire for a rational understanding of Ultimate Reality, rather than a desire to avoid death.
According to Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, when faced with extreme mortal dangers the very basic of all human wishes is to find a meaning of life to combat this "trauma of nonbeing" as death is near and to succumb to it (even by suicide) seems like a way out.
The "father" of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, regarded all humans to be born into despair by default (in This Sickness Unto Death). Such despair was created by having a false conception of the self. He regarded the mortal self which can exist relatively, and therefore be born or die, as the false self. The true self was the relationship of self to God (the Absolute, or Ultimate Reality), rather than to any relative object.
Test anxiety is the uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness felt by students who have a fear of failing an exam. Students suffering from test anxiety may experience any of the following: the association of grades with personal worth, embarrassment by a teacher, taking a class that is beyond their ability, fear of alienation from parents or friends, time pressures, or feeling a loss of control. Emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical components can all be present in test anxiety. Sweating, dizziness, headaches, racing heartbeats, nausea, fidgeting, and drumming on a desk are all common. An optimal level of arousal is necessary to best complete a task such as an exam; however, when the anxiety or level of arousal exceeds that optimum, it results in a decline in performance. Because test anxiety hinges on fear of negative evaluation, debate exists as to whether test anxiety is itself a unique anxiety disorder or whether it is a specific type of social phobia. In 2006, approximately 49% of high school students were reportedly suffering from this condition.
While the term test anxiety refers specifically to students, many adults share the same experience with regard to their career or profession. The fear of failing a task and being negatively evaluated for it can have a similarly negative effect on the adult.
Anxiety when meeting or interacting with unknown people is a common stage of development in young people.
So-called "stranger anxiety" in younger people is not a phobia in the classic sense; rather it is a developmentally appropriate fear by young children of those who do not share a 'loved-one', caretaker or parenting role. In adults, an excessive fear of other people is not a developmentally common stage.
Anxiety in palliative care
Some research has strongly suggested that treating anxiety in cancer patients improves their quality of life. The treatment generally consists of counseling, relaxation techniques or pharmacologically with benzodiazepines.
Kava-Kava root is an effective natural treatment for short-term relief of mild anxiety.