Seven Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety

Unfortunately, anxiety is all too common in the world today. In fact, the word has already become part of our colloquial language. So what are our most frequent doubts about this phenomenon? Furthermore, what does science say about it?
Seven Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety
Sharon Laura Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Laura Capeluto.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

No doubt, you’ve experienced anxiety many times. It’s natural to feel it, for example, when you have a job interview, an important exam, or when driving for the first time. It can also appear when you have a date with someone you really like or when you have to speak in public.

However, the problem is that, depending on its intensity and duration, it can be adaptive or maladaptive. In other words, it can become your friend or foe.

Here are the most commonly asked questions about this phenomenon so you can clear up any doubts you may have.

1. What’s anxiety?

Anxiety is an alert signal that warns you of danger. It’s a defense mechanism that appears as a response to a situation that you perceive as threatening, regardless of whether it is or not.

As a matter of fact, you need it in order to react quickly and adapt to events that pose a risk to your physical integrity or emotional stability. Its function is to mobilize you, keep you alert, and prepare you to defend yourself, by fight, flight, or adaptation.

woman with anxiety

2. How does it make you feel?

Although anxiety manifests itself in different ways in each person, it’s always unpleasant. The main symptoms are as follows:

  • Tachycardia.
  • Sweating.
  • Headaches.
  • A sensation of shortness of breath.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Fear.
  • Concern.
  • Catastrophic thoughts.
  • Nerves.
  • Uncertainty.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

3. How do you know if your anxiety is maladaptive?

When evaluating the functionality (or dysfunctionality) of your anxiety, you must take into account some significant issues. First of all, you might ask yourself if it’s helping you to respond appropriately or if it’s having a negative impact on your decisions.

Imagine that you’re walking down the street and someone suddenly approaches you to steal your cellphone. You’ll probably feel anxious. This can cause your nervous system to go into a state of alert, which would allow you to react quickly and escape. Alternatively, it could paralyze you.

In the first case of our imagined scenario, your anxiety is fulfilling its adaptive function. However, in the second case, it’s maladaptive. Maladaptive anxiety occurs when the level of intensity of manifestations is disproportionate to the intensity of the stimulus.

4. What’s an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack is a state of excessive worry that occurs for a few minutes. This is the highest level that anxiety can reach. The catastrophic interpretation, physiological symptoms, and the activation of the alert system work as a vicious circle that constantly feeds back and makes it difficult to put an end to the situation.

The fear of fear (anticipatory anxiety) becomes a central issue of the problem because it makes the discomfort remain and even intensify. It’s when the fear of feeling that excessive fear again appears, that an anxiety attack occurs.

If you’ve suffered one, it’s of the utmost importance that you learn as soon as possible about the tools and strategies that psychology proposes for these situations. Indeed, there are many different resources and books you can consult in this regard.

5. Can it become a bigger problem?

Yes. Anxiety becomes a serious issue when it prevents you from enjoying life and carrying out your daily activities. In fact, if it’s significantly interfering in a negative way with your day-to-day functioning, you should seek help from specialized mental health professionals. That’s because you could be developing an anxiety disorder that requires treatment.

According to the DSM 5, there are various diagnoses linked to anxiety. Among them, the most frequent are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, and panic attacks.

6. Can it be solved?

Yes, of course. Remember that anxiety is an alarm signal, a warning. It alerts you to the fact that something is wrong, either in a specific situation or in your life in general. In effect, it appears in order to give you that exact message.

For the treatment of anxiety disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be effective, particularly when accompanied by psychoeducation and tools such as mindfulness. With these resources, you’ll be able to gradually recover your feeling of control over your body and state of mind. At the same time, you’ll be acquiring tools to use whenever necessary.

Worried girl in psychological therapy

7. Should you take medication?

It’s an option, but not always necessary. Occasionally, drugs are prescribed for severe anxiety disorders, in combination with psychotherapy. However, any anxiolytic should only be taken under the order and supervision of a specialist. Under no circumstances should you ever self-medicate.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association (2014). DSM-5. Manual diagnóstico y estadístico de los trastornos mentales. Madrid: Panamericana.
  • Clark, D. A., & Beck, A. T. (2010). Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Anxiety and Depression: Convergence with Neurobiological Findings. Trends in Cognitive Science, 14, 418-424.
  • Goodwin, H., Yiend, J., & Hirsch, C. R. (2017, June 1). Generalized Anxiety Disorder, worry and attention to threat: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. Elsevier Inc.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.