What is Anxiety?

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Few people actually consider what anxiety is despite the fact that millions self-diagnose or are diagnosed as suffering from it each year. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, "A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome."  

But a definition tells us nothing about where this feeling comes from and why. An understanding of both of these is necessary to gain control of anxiety habits.

Which of the following is due to anxiety?

  • You live in constant fear of having a panic attack.
  • You have a phobia - you dread the dentist or you can't go in lifts.
  • You constantly worry about, "What if...?"
  • You would love to go somewhere exotic on holiday but you're terrified of flying.
  • You've been in an accident and now keep getting reminders that take you right back there.
  • You just feel worried and afraid most of the time but can't work out why.
  • You feel you MUST do certain things in a certain way or something bad might happen.

The answer is that THEY ALL ARE!

There are several words in our culture that we use to refer to this anxiety feeling: stressed, afraid, worried, panicky, anxious, traumatised, etc.

There are also several psychiatric diagnoses which contain that same feeling in varying degrees - panic attacks, phobias, ocd, ptsd, anxiety disorder, neurosis, and so on.

Whilst the actual symptoms may be different in the way they present themselves, the reason all these disorders have come about is basically the same. They are each the result of an anxiety habit.

Therefore, if the sufferer learns how to manage or reduce their anxiety habit, their disorder will improve or even go away completely.

So what is anxiety?

  • The unpleasant feeling that we refer to as anxiety is basically a fear response. It varies in strength.
  • Sometimes it's referred to as worry - usually when fairly mild.
  • Other times it's called stress or anxiety when it's a bit stronger.
  • When it's overwhelming in any situation we call it a panic or anxiety attack.

But these are all variations of the same basic fear response!

And that is what anxiety is! It is simply an inappropriate occurrence of a normal response which nature gives us in an attempt to guarantee our survival.

  • We are each born with an instinctive fear response to keep us from danger in a real life-threatening situation.
  • When we suffer with anxiety type problems it's because we have (without meaning to) trained that fear response to jump in when the situation isn't really life-threatening. But we still react as if it is!
  • None of the situations where people get anxiety problems is actually life-threatening. When you feel panicky in a supermarket you aren't in any real danger that might kill you!
  • When you remember something really bad that happened to you, it may have been life-threatening at the time but the memory of it won't kill you.
  • When you see a spider or a mouse run across the floor, are you really likely to die?

If in any of the above situations your life really is in danger then it's not an anxiety problem but a real threat that you need to get away from! 

Anxiety is a basic human emotion that has been trained by the unsuspecting human so that it has developed into a problem.

It is normal to feel the emotion we call anxiety at certain times.

It is when we feel it more than normal and it gets in the way of the life we want to lead that it becomes a problem.

Maybe you've tried to get rid of your anxiety?

The general public, the media and many doctors seem to believe that anxiety, like other physical illnesses, can be cured by pills or by the expert doing something to make it better. 

If you are visiting this site it's likely that you, or someone close to you, has a problem with anxiety and you're looking for help. It's also likely that you've already tried many 'cures' but the anxiety either won't go away or it keeps coming back.

Is one of the following the reason you're here?

CBT homework causing increased anxiety.

You've tried therapy, such as CBT, but the homework was just one more thing to worry about!

Medication for anxiety making person feel doped.

Medication makes you feel  'doped' and only works as long as you keep taking it. It doesn't 'cure' the anxiety.

Trying to use breathing exercises when anxious doesn;t always work.

You learnt breathing techniques and you use them but they don't always work and you still get anxious.

Cartoon face showing a person free of anxiety.

You see other people who haven't a care in the world and you envy them... You're afraid you will always be like this...

When people find they have that uncomfortable feeling a bit like fear, the first thing they do is try and get rid of it.

They try various things such as pills, breathing exercises, alcohol... Anything that will get rid of the feeling for now. When the horrible feeling just won't go away, they often try to smother it instead with medication or alcohol.

Isn't there a pill or something that cures anxiety?

As a society we have become accustomed to having a physical problem for which a doctor will prescribe medication of some sort which will clear up the problem. We seem to prefer to have to do nothing more than take the medicine.

But anxiety isn't a physical problem but a psychological one. Psychological problems are rooted in the way we think about our world and what's happening in it.

So although a psychological difficulty may give us physical symptoms of various kinds (such as anxiety) the cause, as with all psychological problems, is with our thoughts. Nobody but you has the power to control what goes on in your head.

While it's true that there are various medications that can reduce anxiety feelings. They work by numbing the brain so it doesn't feel emotion... but they don't cure the anxiety, they simply mask it temporarily. Stop taking the pills and back it comes - unless whilst taking medication you are able to work at acquiring new habits to replace the anxiety ones.

Medication can be very useful when someone has suffered a severe trauma of some kind and needs temporary relief to start to come to terms with it. But there's no pill that will overcome a longstanding anxiety habit permanently.

Also, the very nature of this type of medication tends to make it addictive. Therefore when you feel better and want to stop taking it, the withdrawal symptoms are similar to the anxiety symptoms for which you took it in the first place.

Anxiety is not just a modern problem

I have heard it said that many of today's anxiety problems are the result of modern living. When I did a research degree 30 years ago I looked into anxiety-related problems at the end of the 19th century. I found that there was definitely evidence of disorders such as panic attacks and agoraphobia then as well but they weren't called that. It was usually the middle and upper classes who had these problems. It seems that the poor were too busy surviving day-to-day to worry about how they felt.

Women who suffered in this way were labelled as neurotic and of delicate disposition. For men, however, the picture was different. In Victorian times a gentleman was not supposed to display any weakness of emotion so those who had anxiety issues would often turn to alcohol for Dutch courage. This resulted often in alcoholism.

Despite the fact that society is more tolerant now of psychological problems such as anxiety, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding as to what anxiety is and how it comes about.

What this website will teach you:


All the anxiety-related problems described on this site have the same problem at their core. By understanding what anxiety is and how it develops, the way forward becomes much clearer. It also becomes do-able, day by day and step by step.

Before you use various methods to try and overcome anxiety you must first fully understand what's going on. As you work your way through the information contained here you will come to see why. 


There are many different ways in which anxiety shows up, but despite all these different presentations, the basic cause is still the same.

Reading through the various anxiety-related problem descriptions may help you put a name to yours. But naming it alone won't help get rid of it. To do that you need to understand how it came about and then unlearn it again.


When seeking help for anxiety most people look for ways to stop or reduce it. They try one treatment after another but none of them seem to stop it in the long term.

In reality just about any of the common treatment approaches DO work but people fail to actually do what's advised.


I know it takes dedication to stick to any self-improvement programme. People want easy instant answers.

I also cheated for many years, getting by with various instant remedies that got rid of the anxiety at that moment but didn't stop it coming back the next time. In the end I had to front up and practise what I preached in order to get my life back - and this time I did it for good.

Where to now?

Now that we have started to think about the question, "What is anxiety?" the next step is to consider how it becomes a problem and what are the causes? What turns a person born with a neutral or even positive outlook, into one plagued by anxieties?

Because it is vital to understand the six factors involved in the cause of anxiety if you are ever to successfully get the better of anxiety issues, I have created a short email course based on the six factors involved in the cause of anxiety. 

This course is FREE in return for signing up to receive occasional updates from Anxaid. Over eight days it leads you step by step through the six factors and is easier than trawling through the pages on this website as the emails can be read anywhere at any time or printed out for reference.

Understanding Anxiety
Email Course

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or follow the steps to understanding what anxiety is and where it comes from on this website:

What is anxiety that it turns a happy person into a worrier

  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. What is Anxiety?