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Anxiety itself is a trigger and reaction to the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands.
When adrenaline is released, the body reacts with a flight or fight response. When we are faced with
danger or stress, the body triggers a release of adrenaline. This release of adrenaline will increase the
heart rate and blood circulation, breathing will increase as the body prepares our muscles for exertion.

In a dangerous situation, this release of adrenaline gives us the ability to react quickly to the
situation. Even our metabolism reacts to the release of adrenaline and carbohydrates will begin to fuel
the muscles for fight or flight. Every body system is affected by the release of adrenaline, including our
brains. When there is a real threat to safety, this release of adrenaline and the physical response it
creates, will help us deal with the threat. When there is no present threat to safety, this release of
adrenaline triggers anxiety.

Variables That Predict A Psychological Vulnerability To Anxiety

Simply having a biological predisposition, or a heightened sensitivity to stress, is not enough to

develop an anxiety disorder. As previously mentioned, a person is more likely to develop an anxiety
disorder if they are biologically predisposed to anxiety, in conjunction with a psychological vulnerability.
Research has identified four important psychological variables that predict a psychological vulnerability
to anxiety. These are:

1. Perceived Control
Childhood experiences can heavily influence someone's perceived sense of control.
When children repeatedly experience a lack of control over the events in their lives,
they may come to view the world as unpredictable and dangerous. This worldview may
lead to feelings of helplessness. As a result, they develop a tendency to expect negative
outcomes, no matter how they may try to prevent them. Several types of early life
experiences can later influence a person's perception of control. One of these is family
dynamics, particularly parenting style. An overly protective parenting style can
communicate the world is a dangerous place.
2. Cognitive Appraisals
Imagine that you get called into your boss' office and he tells you that they need to cut
your schedule down to part-time for the next few months. Your boss doesn't offer any

explanation or further information but does express his apologies before you go back to
your desk. After considering his tone of voice, body language, and general demeanor,
you decide that it must be a financial issue and is not related to your performance.
Furthermore, you feel as though you need to cut back anyway, so having your hours
reduced feels like it might be a benefit in the short-term.
You've made a cognitive appraisal of the interaction and arrived at a conclusion and
emotional response. In simple terms, a cognitive appraisal is an assessment of an
emotional situation wherein a person evaluates how the event will affect them,
interprets the various aspects of the event, and arrives at a response based on that
3. Medical Causes
For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases,
anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor
suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for
signs of a problem.

Anxiety Disorders

A. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder feel anxious most of the time. They worry excessively
about routine events or circumstances in their lives. Their worries often relate to finances, family,
personal health, and relationships with others. Although they recognize their anxiety as irrational or
out of proportion to actual events, they feel unable to control their worrying. For example, they may
worry uncontrollably and intensely about money despite evidence that their financial situation is
stable. Children with this disorder typically worry about their performance at school or about
catastrophic events, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and nuclear war.

People with generalized anxiety disorder often find that their worries interfere with their ability
to function at work or concentrate on tasks. Physical symptoms, such as disturbed sleep, irritability,
muscle aches, and tension, may accompany the anxiety.

B. Phobias

A phobia is an excessive, enduring fear of clearly defined objects or situations that interferes
with a person’s normal functioning. Although they know their fear is irrational, people with phobias

always try to avoid the source of their fear. Common phobias include fear of heights (acrophobia),
fear of enclosed places (claustrophobia), fear of insects, snakes, or other animals, and fear of air
travel. Social phobias involve a fear of performing, of critical evaluation, or of being embarrassed in
front of other people.

C. Panic Disorder

Panic is an intense, overpowering surge of fear. People with panic disorder experience panic
attacks—periods of quickly escalating, intense fear and discomfort accompanied by such physical
symptoms as rapid heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea. Because people
with this disorder cannot predict when these attacks will strike, they develop anxiety about having
additional panic attacks and may limit their activities outside the home.

D. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In obsessive-compulsive disorder, people persistently experience certain intrusive thoughts or

images (obsessions) or feel compelled to perform certain behaviors (compulsions). Obsessions may
include unwanted thoughts about inadvertently poisoning others or injuring a pedestrian while
driving. Common compulsions include repetitive hand washing or such mental acts as repeated
counting. People with this disorder often perform compulsions to reduce the anxiety produced by
their obsessions. The obsessions and compulsions significantly interfere with their ability to function
and may consume a great deal of time.

E. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes occurs after people experience traumatic or

catastrophic events, such as physical or sexual assaults, natural disasters, accidents, and wars.
People with this disorder relive the traumatic event through recurrent dreams or intrusive
memories called flashbacks. They avoid things or places associated with the trauma and may feel
emotionally detached or estranged from others. Other symptoms may include difficulty sleeping,
irritability, and trouble concentrating.


 Feeling nervous, restless or tense  Having an increased heart rate

 Having a sense of impending danger,  Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
panic or doom  Sweating

 Trembling  Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI)
 Feeling weak or tired problems
 Trouble concentrating or thinking about  Having difficulty controlling worry
anything other than the present worry  Having the urge to avoid things that
 Having trouble sleeping trigger anxiety


Anxiety arises first, often during childhood. Evidence suggests that both biology and
environment can contribute to the disorder. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety;
however, this does not make development of the condition inevitable. Early traumatic experiences can
also reset the body’s normal fear-processing system so that it is hyper-reactive to stress.

The exaggerated worries and expectations of negative outcomes in unknown situations that
typify anxiety are often accompanied by physical symptoms. These include muscle tension, headaches,
stomach cramps, and frequent urination. Behavioral therapies, with or without medication to control
symptoms, have proved highly effective against anxiety, especially in children.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Treatment for anxiety disorders vary depending on the type of disorder. The proper treatment
can reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety and control the psychological symptoms of this disorder. A
professional therapist or psychologist can diagnose and treat all types of anxiety disorders and it is
always best to seek professional help. This list of treatment options is not a comprehensive list and it
should not be used to self-treat any anxiety disorder.

 Exposure Therapy
 Medications
 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT
 Cognitive Behavior Therapies
 Mindfulness Therapy
 Lifestyle Changes


Lynn F. Bufka and David H. Barlow Microsoft ® Encarta