The numerous jargon and definitions surrounding anxiety can be confusing. In fact, the very definition of anxiety can be unclear. The different types of anxiety terms include anxiety, fear, stress, worry, panic attack, depression, avoidance, rumination, obsessive, compulsive, phobia, ruminating, separation anxiety, test anxiety, catastrophic thinking, anticipatory anxiety, dating anxiety, performance anxiety, hypochodriasis, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, agoraphobia.
Anxiety is a mental state characterized by a range of unpleasant features, including apprehension, worry, rumination (which functions as attempts to control one’s worry), various types of nervous behavior, and physical complaints (American Psychological Association, 2007). It can be accompanied by a sense of terror, dread, and preparation for flight; this nervous preparation for flight can eventually translate into fatigue, muscular strain and soreness, and difficulties in concentration (reflecting exhaustion). What differentiates anxiety from basic fear is that the latter is tied to some specific, verifiable threat, while anxiety tends to be more free-floating and not tied to a specific threat. Thus, anxiety is unpleasant both to the person experiencing it as well as to others witnessing it in others.
Stress is defined by Oxford dictionary (2014) as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” So by definition, stress, or mental strain, is a result of difficult circumstances. Being ‘stressed-out’ then translates into having mental strain from stressors (difficult circumstances). So the more stressors, the more stress one may have. Stressors frequently trigger an anxiety disorder, and stressors also perpetuate (maintain, prolong) an anxiety disorder. In the end, stress is the end result of stressors, which often trigger and perpetuate an anxiety disorder. Therefore, stressors need to be addressed if one hopes to recover from an anxiety disorder.
Worry is thinking about problems and fears. It is about thinking and fretting that something bad may happen. Worry is a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, where one has worries about everyday life circumstances, also known as generalized anxiety.
Panic attacks are discreet episodes of extreme anxiety symptoms, characterized by fears of going crazy or fear that one is going to die, chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, profuse sweating, and tingling and numbness of the extremities. These panic attacks usually last for several minutes. Panic attacks are seen in panic disorder.
Depression is a mental state of feeling low and blue. Depressed mood, or anhedonia (not able to feel pleasure) are requirements for the diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Depression may also be induced by stressors, just like anxiety. In addition, depression and anxiety may be present at the same time.
Avoidance is a behavior that attempts to not have contact with a feared stimulus (ie heights, bridges) or a reminder of a traumatic event (ie crash scene) or a situation (ie crowds of people). Avoidant behavior is seen in many anxiety disorders such as specific/social phobias and post traumatic stress disorder. It is counterintuitive, but the more one avoids their fears, the worse the anxiety gets. An important part of cognitive behavioral therapy is addressing the avoidance with gradual exposure to the fears.
Rumination is repetitively thinking about the various factors of an upsetting situation. It is a maladaptive coping skill, makes one feel even worse, and often leads to anxiety and/or depression. It is replaying a problem over and over in one’s mind, which leads to worse emotional states. The solution is to do the opposite of rumination…move on and shake it off.
Separation anxiety is fear that separation from a loved one will result in harm befalling the loved one. This mainly occurs in children when separating from their parents. The separation anxiety may also occur when leaving the home or from anyone to whom the person has a strong emotional connection.
Test anxiety is a combination of worry, dread, fear and anticipation of taking a test. People with test anxiety get so worked up and also have physical arousal and tension. They are not able to focus, and in some cases not able to complete the test. They have a fear of failure and they exhibit catastrophic thinking. The anxiety occurs before (anticipatory anxiety) and during a test. Anticipatory anxiety occurs when one anticipates a bad outcome with an upcoming event. Catastrophic thinking is always thinking the worse possible outcome will occur.
Dating anxiety is a combination of fear of rejection, concern about making a good connection and worry if the other person likes you. Performance anxiety is the anxiety in having to perform in front of an audience. Social anxiety involves worry, dread, fear and anticipation of social situations or crowds of people. Hypochodriasis is the preoccupation with the fear of having a disease. Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places or situations in which escape may be difficult, or anxiety that one may not get help in the event that one has a panic attack.
In summary, there are numerous terms associated with anxiety. Each anxiety term has a specific meaning, and it is important to know the differences. An important step in recovering from anxiety is to learn more about anxiety and what the different anxiety terms mean.