Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety Meaning and Definition

Avatar for Mish Khot By in anxiety, counselling, mental health on 25/09/2020
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To really understand anxiety, we have to go back to our caveman roots. Imagine you’re a caveman or woman, wandering the plains and living close to nature. As the temperature starts to dip, you feel a sense of uneasiness. You remember that the last time this happened, it was so cold at night that you needed extra furs. It was harder to find food while you were foraging and you had to go to sleep on an empty stomach sometimes. That sense of uneasiness pushes you to stock up on grain and furs so that you can survive another winter. The real anxiety meaning and purpose becomes clear when you realize that it helps keep us sharp and enables us to navigate the dangers and difficulties in the world.

Anxiety gets a bad rap today but it is a feeling that it crucial to our survival. Anxiety only becomes a concern when the feelings don’t go away, arise without cause or render us incapable of dealing with our environment. It is this kind of anxiety that classifies as an anxiety disorder and gives rise to the negative anxiety meaning that we have come to know and understand.

What is an anxiety disorder?

There are several types of anxiety disorders but they share one common factor: the impact on an individual’s ability to go about their daily lives.

anxious definition

A person with an anxiety disorder may perceive situations as worse than they truly are. The uneasiness is amplified so much that it impacts their ability to focus, rest or even carry out daily activities at home, office or school.

Such people go out of their way to avoid any stressors and in extreme cases, avoid going out of the house in order to prevent dealing with life.

The anxiety meaning that we know and understand is a real disorder. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in Australia and affect 1 in 4 Australians at some point in their life. Women have been found to be more susceptible to these disorders, with one in three Aussie women being affected as opposed to one in five men. The causes of anxiety include genetic tendencies, ongoing stress, family background, physical health issues or traumatic events.

What kind of individuals fall under the anxious definition?

Stress, worry and anxiety are natural responses to situations which are perceived as unpleasant or dangerous but the feelings tend to pass once the stressor is out of the equation.

For a person to have anxiety meaning an actual disorder or to be classified medically under the anxious definition, their response needs to be one of persistent stress or worry even after the removal of the stressor.

In a period of a year, anxiety affects over two million Aussies. Anxiety disorders show up in a number of ways and are caused by several factors, but the most common cause is a genetic predisposition to anxiety. Without an inherited cause for anxiety, personality traits and response mechanisms to life events may trigger the condition or make it worse than it is.

All anxiety disorders share common ground in that they are so distressing that they interfere with the individual’s ability to function in their professional and their personal lives. Most anxiety disorders can be treated fairly easily but some require specialized treatment.

What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

panic attack from anxiety

A person suffering from an anxiety disorder feels under pressure most of the time, even in the absence of any clear stressor. An anxiety episode can be so severe it is debilitating to the individual. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Excessive worry about the past, present or future
  • Feelings of apprehension or powerlessness
  • Constantly feeling that something bad is about to happen
  • A racing mind that gives rise to brain fog
  • Inability to concentrate or remember things
  • Uncontrollable compulsions and obsessions
  • Immobilizing worry about social situations
  • Irrational fears about everyday objects and situations i.e. phobias

In addition to all the above emotional or mental symptoms, you may also experience the physical symptoms of anxiety meaning panic attacks. These include clearly identifiable and measurable physical changes such as:

  • Pounding heart
  • Heavy breathing (hyperventilation) or shortness of breath
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Trembling hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Pain arising in the stomach or chest
  • Loose motions
  • Tightening of muscles and joints
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Hot and cold flushes

A panic attack can be triggered by certain situations and generally occurs in people who have been diagnosed with a panic disorder but may also be indicative of other anxiety disorders. For some individuals, they happen regularly.

What are the different types of anxiety?

If you are diagnosed with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you are likely to experience a variety of symptoms spanning more than one type of disorder. You may also be more susceptible to depression or from alcohol or drug abuse issues.

It is imperative that you understand your symptoms well and consult a medical health professional if you experience these symptoms for extended periods of time or if you think they are getting worse.

reach out for help for anxiety

It is on the basis of your symptoms that the medical professional will perform a diagnosis and be able to classify your type of anxiety meaning the actual disorder. The most common types of anxiety are:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is when a person experiences anxiety on most days and tends to worry about all things in life. Do note that this is less as a reaction to a stressful situation and is usually a long-term feeling of worry extending for a period of more than six months to a year.

Social anxiety
A person with social anxiety has trouble navigating and being around people. They suffer from the crippling fear of being criticized, embarrassed or humiliated. This can extend to banal everyday tasks like striking up a conversation, eating in public, being assertive or speaking among a group. This condition is different from being merely shy or introverted.

Specific phobias
As the name implies, these are quite specific to a particular object or situation. A person with a phobia will do their best to steer away from their object or situation of fear. There are as many types of phobias as there are situations and objects.

Panic disorder
A person diagnosed with a panic disorder has attacks which can be powerful, overwhelming and often uncontrollable. They are accompanied by physical symptoms of anxiety meaning difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness and excessive sweating. It is quite likely that a person suffering from a panic attack believes themselves to be having a heart attack which only worsens the situation. If a person has recurrent panic attacks or persistently fears having one for more than a month, they’re diagnosed with a panic disorder.

What kind of treatments and resources can help me with anxiety?

The treatment for anxiety is highly contingent on the symptoms you experience and the diagnosis and classification of your anxiety disorder. A treatment can only be provided once the symptoms have been analyzed and a diagnosis has been made. Treatment can only be provided by a general practitioner who may prescribe their own treatment or refer the individual to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other suitably qualified health professional.

Treatment helps control, mitigate or even eliminate the symptoms associated with anxiety and may include:

Cognitive behavior therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been identified to be the most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders. It helps the anxious person identify the thoughts and behaviors that play a role in anxiety meaning that they can then build skills to manage the symptoms when they arise. Cognitive behavior therapy includes the following:

  • Cognitive restructuring: A technique which empowers an individual to develop a more positive manner of thinking and to challenge negative thoughts as and when they arise.
  • Problem-solving: This technique helps a person to go about their everyday activities and tasks. It has been shown to help people feel more confident tackling life’s challenges, and to decrease general anxiety. 
  • Exposure therapy: This specialized form of treatment involves a psychologist guiding a patient through a series of real and imaginary scenarios to help face their specific fears. This allows the person to practice and cope with their fears before they become reality leading to a reduced anxiety response.
  • Relaxation: This includes a range of activities such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation which, when practiced regularly has proven tremendously effective in reducing anxiety.


Mindfulness is a tried and tested form of treatment for those who fit into the anxiety meaning. In mindfulness, a person learns to remain present and notice the symptoms as and when they arise without any judgment. It involves accepting and dealing with the symptoms, allowing the individual to identify them and deal effectively with them.

practice mindfulness for anxiety

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes are highly effective in reducing stress and controlling anxiety and can include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Eating healthy
  • Sleeping adequately  
  • Seeking the support of family and friends
  • Seeking psychological therapy for mild-moderate anxiety and depression as well as specialised psychological and medical treatments for severe depression and/or anxiety

These symptoms may or may not fade away on their own and can soon start to take over your life, if left untreated. Recovery depends on your specific conditions and on yourself but it is quite possible. Getting treatment is unquestionable but you also need to find new ways to manage and live with the changes and challenges of anxiety. The important thing is seeking and obtaining the right treatment from the correct health professionals and working with the support of your family and loved ones.

If you experience some or any of these symptoms, it is best to consult with a doctor, counsellor or mental health professional. Avaana can help you find a counsellor if you would like to talk to one. It may take time to feel better, but getting professional help can support you in managing anxiety meaning a better life for you and those around you.

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Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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