A note on anxiety and its relationship with fear

The relationship between the emotion of fear and the experience of anxiety creates considerable debate within the psychology literature. For example, DSM-IV (APA, 1994) proposes that the term anxiety denotes "apprehension, tension or uneasiness that stems from the anticipation of danger, which may be internal or external" (p. 392), a definition that could, we suggest, just as readily apply to fear. One possible difference, it is argued (e.g., Ohman, 1993), between anxiety and fear is that the former lacks a recognisable external source of threat. However, an alternative analysis has been proposed by, among others Epstein (1972), that external stimuli are insufficient to distinguish fear and anxiety. Epstein submits that fear is related to action (particularly escape and avoidance) in a way that anxiety is not. Anxiety, he suggests, is what happens when fear-related action (namely flight) is blocked or thwarted. In other words, anxiety is unresolved fear or, as Ohman (1993) has suggested, anxiety is "a state of undirected arousal following the perception of threat" (Epstein, 1972, p. 311). It is this latter definition, in our view, that has the most mileage and, for the purposes of this chapter, anxiety is conceptualised as a state in which the individual is unable to instigate a clear pattern of behaviour to remove or alter the event/object/ interpretation that is threatening an existing goal.

This discussion of anxiety inevitably brings us to the question of worry—the ruminative process we indulge in, in order to deal with threats that do not seem to go away. In this respect, worry is clearly a functional process. It allows us to review options, construct schematic models of possible outcomes, and to make suitable plans. Despite this common and adaptive role of worry, most theories of worry focus on the pathological form whereby individuals become overwhelmed by concerns in various domains. Consequently, we leave discussion of the main theories of worry until later in the chapter when we consider generalised anxiety states.

In summary, in this first part of the chapter we have considered normal fear and anxiety. As we have noted, fear has been the emotion we have turned to most often to illustrate various philosophical and psychological points in the previous five chapters and we have chosen not to reiterate those points here. Consequently, the balance of the present chapter tilts towards fear disorder. However, we must emphasise that this balance is not to imply that fear is necessarily any more pathological than the other basic emotions.

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Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

Everything you ever wanted to know about. We have been discussing depression and anxiety and how different information that is out on the market only seems to target one particular cure for these two common conditions that seem to walk hand in hand.

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