Understanding Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks

So what is anxiety? – well, anxiety is a set of physical feelings experienced by all of us from time to time in response to fear about possible unpleasant future outcomes. So let’s talk some more about understanding Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks.

The physical feelings are those of the flight or fight response, which are caused by an increase in the body’s autonomic nervous system activity and adrenaline levels. In the following video, Alison Sommer talks about Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks at a TEDxCarletonCollege meeting:

Anxiety is a message that we send to ourselves, telling us to do something about the potential problem that might arise in the future.

Unfortunately, many people do not take heed of the feelings and do something about the problem, or they may not actually be able to do anything. In this situation, the anxiety symptoms become chronic, recurrent and persistent, and they begin to affect the health of the person physically, psychologically and emotionally.

About Anxiety

There are a number of different types of anxiety disorder, each with its own characteristics. They are:

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder
  2. Panic disorder
  3. Phobia
  4. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  5. Social anxiety disorder
  6. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic worry or feeling of fear about many different things, often without knowing why. People who experience this feel anxious over all sorts of day-to-day activities and have a constant feeling of impending doom, that bad things are going to happen.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is when people experience recurrent panic attacks, and can reach the point where they become anxious about having a panic attack.

One way to think about panic is that it is the fear of the feelings of being frightened and it’s good to know that Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) usually helps very well in treating this sort of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. 

This makes it more likely for an attack to occur. People who suffer from panic attacks often become fearful of the consequences of having an attack and often learn to avoid situations when an attack might happen, such as going out shopping or socializing. As a consequence, they often restrict their social activity and can become quite isolated.


Phobia is the irrational, excessive and exaggerated fear of objects which frequently present little or no real danger to the person. Common phobias include fear of snakes, spiders, the dark, heights and flying. People who experienced phobias will try their best to avoid the course of the phobia, although this tends to reinforce its strength.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a powerful set of anxiety feelings that happen after a very traumatic and often life-threatening event that may lead to depression. People with post-traumatic stress disorder show increased vigilance in similar situations that may remind them of the events, and suffer from flashbacks and nightmares. These can happen without warning, setting off a frightening internal experience leading to fear and isolation.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is the fear of being viewed by others in a negative light or of public humiliation. It is often mistaken for an excessive degree of shyness. People with social anxiety disorder feel very uncomfortable in social situations and tends to isolate themselves from the circumstances and events that generate these feelings. Stage fright is a well-known manifestation of social anxiety disorder. Relaxation is frequently used in as a form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy model.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise known as OCD, is a condition when a person experiences compulsive desire to undertake repetitive behaviors in order to relieve symptoms of anxiety. If they do not engage in compulsive behavior, the symptoms of anxiety may become unbearable. This is commonly seen in people who have two wash their hands repetitively or in a formalized manner.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

How can you use CBT therapy techniques to help with your anxiety symptoms?

The way you think about anything that happens, and the meaning that you attach to the event creates in you a specific emotional response.

So, if you interpret an event as positive, this usually leads to a feeling of excitement and happiness, and if you interpret it as negative, you will typically feel bad, perhaps anxious, depressed or sad.

The emotional response you experience in relation to an event will be personal to you, and very often, the meaning that you attach to the event will not necessarily be accurate helpful or even realistic. And sometimes the meaning that you are attached to the event will be so extreme in relation to what actually happened that the emotional response you generate will leave you feeling very disturbed, typically anxious or even panicked.

Sometimes you may even start to create generalized emotional reactions from specific events. For example, if your girlfriend dumps you, you may move from the specific thinking ‘she doesn’t like me’ to more generalized thoughts such as ‘nobody likes me’.

If you do this a lot, you can start to feel negative emotions such as anxiety or depression in relation to a range of totally unrelated events which have nothing to do with the specific event that caused that initial emotional reaction. And this can lead to a sensation of generalized anxiety, or generalized anxiety disorder which we also frequently see when it comes to parenting issues.

By using CBT therapy techniques, you will learn to be able to address these sorts of problems by identifying thoughts, beliefs, and meanings that arise when you feel upset emotionally and to notice how you assign these thoughts to specific or more generalized events.

When you interpret events negatively, by learning to change the meanings you have attached to the event to a less extreme, more helpful and to a more accurate one, you will be able to change your emotional response to a much more positive and less disturbing one.

Do you think you could feel less and anxiety and much better by using CBT therapy techniques to address your anxiety symptoms…?