Anxiety and stress are part of the human experience and are related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened. They are also part of the human reaction to the finitude of life.
Sometimes anxiety feels a lot like fear; however, the two feelings are not the same. With anxiety there is an element of uncertainty (you have boarded a plane and are afraid of flying). With fear, there is an actual danger (your plane has lost an engine and is going down). While fear has a clear object (an imminent threat), anxiety does not. It is linked to uncertainty, which can make individuals feel insecure.
It’s common to feel nervous at the thought of a stressful event or decision you’re facing such as relocating to a new home, having a baby, being threatened with a job loss, being diagnosed with an illness, or when getting married or divorced. It is also common to feel something called existential anxiety, which refers to uncertainties that related to the human condition.
Anxiety is a useful human emotion to a degree, because it keeps people aware both of their surroundings and –existentially—of the passing of time and the need to accomplish goals within life’s limitations.
Because anxiety is a normal human experience, it’s sometimes hard to know when it’s becoming a problem for you – but if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, they can be overwhelming.
Many people feel a sort of free-floating anxiety, which is a nonstop feeling of pressure and worry about anything and everything that might go wrong—will I say the wrong thing? Will that person like me? Will I lose my job tomorrow? Will I get in an accident? Will my spouse cheat on me? Will my child be rejected from the universities she applied for?
When you are feeling worried all of the time, are worried about worrying, find it hard to sleep or eat well because of worry, or have panic attacks it is likely that therapy can help you address the underlying reasons for your anxiety and guide you to feel more secure and less anxious. In addition to searching for the root of one’s anxiety, taking an existential-humanistic perspective to examine the concept of “freedom” in one’s life is often helpful to maintaining a sense of control over perceived threats. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be used side by side these techniques to aide patients in practical ways to combat stress and anxiety everyday.