Eli5: what is anxiety as a feeling and why does it seem like it’s becoming more common?

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Im just having a genuinely hard time placing the feeling “anxiety”. The explanations I’ve seen have seemed like very normal behavior like feeling unmotivated about something or nervous of meeting someone.

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Anxiety can be a lot of different things, but for me personally, most commonly it happens somewhat like this. Imagine you’re going about your day, and then suddenly your brain comes up with a random scenario, and it just paralyzes you with fear. Or other times, you would be overthinking something so horribly, that it actually prevents you from doing the things you need to do

people commonly use anxiety and nervousness interchangeably but there are slight differences like severity and context. for example generalized anxiety disorder- a clinical disorder- is characterized broadly by feelings of fear, dread, heart palpitations, sweating, etc. this is either in the presence of a trigger which could be a test or there could be no trigger, sometimes anxiety or panic attacks can happen without warning. being nervous before a test, however, is completely normal. like having butterflies. there are trends in diagnoses tho so anxiety has been the hot take for a while but it’s because it’s used so much in conversation
edit: it becomes a disorder (obviously when diagnosed) when it starts to affect ur ability to do ur normal tasks in life like school/work

I can’t say why it’s apparently becoming more prevalent; could be better diagnosis, excessive self-diagnosis, or that our way of life is putting excessive strain on people.

But as to what it is, I think the point you’re missing is that its feeling that way excessively, and/or without a “normal” reason to feel that way.

It’s that constant worried feeling that something is going to go wrong all the time. You feel like you know exactly what people are thinking and it’s always bad. You hyperfocus on body language and the ways people say things. Feeling on edge like you’re being watched or you’re near danger but for no reason all the time. This is more along the lines oh how I would describe more servere anxiety reactions.

As to why it’s becoming more common, I would say it’s less that people are more anxious but more that there’s more awareness of it. Most mental illnesses are seeing a rise in affliction counts due to awareness and the acceptance of mental illnesses as treatable rather than something that will get you locked away and outcast from society. Though I would have to do more research personally to get more detailed.

You know that moment of gut-wrenching fear when you see the face of someone who is a second away from telling you that someone you loved just died? Or the suckerpunch feeling when you start to fall? It’s like that, but can last for hours/days. A severe panic attack is so painful and scary people routinely mistake them for a heart attack. In a mild case, it feels like the night before a big test but for no reason.

Part of why it seems more prevalent is we call it by a different name. Long ago, people with anxiety were ‘neurotic’ or an ‘invalid’ or ‘hysterical’ or just outcast completely if it was severe.

For me it’s when the ‘fight or flight’ response keeps getting activated, so my heart rate goes up & I get hyper-aware of my surroundings. I’m sure this is a great response for dealing with being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger, but in the modern world it’s completely inappropriate for dealing with the actual problem, which maybe something at work that requires clear-thinking, or maybe just the need to go to sleep at night, so it’s bloody exhausting… which makes it hard to have a clear head the next day, and round and round we go…

Your brain constantly expects that something very dangerous is about to happen, but since nothing is gonna happen, it gets confused and the fear goes into a feedback loop, building up more and more, seemingly endlessly..

In the book I read called “The Flinch”, I liked how the anxiety was explained – our brains are hardwired to seek danger, because in the wilderness, life and death situations were happening on a daily basis. But once the human society evolved to the point that such a dangerous situation is very unlikely, the brain gets pretty confused when it’s expecting something certain, but nothing happens. Dunno, might be bullshit, but it’s pretty rational to me.

Anxiety is synonym with stress. It’s actually the same physiological reactions taking place when you’re anxious, when you’re stressed and when you’re scared. The difference is just semantics. Anxiety refers to fear of what’s coming, fear refers to when you’re in physical danger (or believe you are) and stress is fear a fear of failure that arise when a person believes (s)he doesn’t have the resources (s)he needs to solve a problem.

The current consensus is that we’ve evolved for so long, that if each generation were to be represented by a person, you’d have a crowd of 10 000 people. Out of all those 10 000, only 6 are alive today. Two of these generations have grown up surrounded by electronics and only one of those generations started to get in contact with electronic devices as toddlers. Humans have as for back as we have archaeological records been leading a nomadic lifestyle, walking and running in a dangerous environment. And despite a clear forward moving trend thanks to technological advancement (just over a century ago there were still horses trafficking the streets) we have not been in it long enough to adapt to this modern lifestyle. So the same primitive system that kept us alive on the savanna now responds as intensely to the trivial problems of our modern life. Another issue is that information travels so fast now, which gives advertisers a lot of reach. In stead of watching a YouTube video you end up also watching 2-6 commercials. And while 10 seconds here and there isn’t very much, the continuous bombardment of information we receive on a daily basis is *unparallelled* in human history up until this point. Population density is also at its peak. Since we’re not equipped to deal with this overwhelming amount of information and relations we become stressed. Some crash, some become addicts, some become anxious.

I also believe all these screens have impacted our ability to sociolise and regulate our emotions. These are skills we learn when we interact with others, and studies have shown that there is a correlation.

Nervousness is the reasonable fear of something I’m nervous about a test because I’m afraid of failing I’m nervous about flying because I’m afraid of crashing. Anxiety is nervousness to an unreasonable extent and that can mean two things. One is being too nervous about something you should be nervous about for instance it’s okay to be nervous about a test but if you’re so afraid that you’re throwing up or passing out you have anxiety. The second is nervousness about something you shouldn’t be nervous about. For example my mother had anxiety and she wouldn’t go in any where with automatic sliding doors because she was afraid the power would fail and then she’d be trapped. It’s unreasonable and is therefore anxiety. I think it seems more common because people like to use extremes if you’re a little nervous about flying people will say they’re anxious.