Probably, every person is familiar with the state of anxiety that he experienced under some circumstances. Someone experienced it while waiting for the results of the doctor’s tests (if the diagnosis could be serious enough), someone experienced anxiety for a loved one who did not give news about himself for a long time during his departure, and someone remembers the unpleasant feeling of unconscious anxiety, which, at first glance, there was no basis. Anxiety, at first glance, is very reminiscent of fear, sometimes they turn into each other, but, nevertheless, these phenomena are different from each other.
At the same time, there are a number of fundamental differences between anxiety and fear, concerning both the origin of these phenomena and their mental manifestations.
Cons and pros of anxiety
Anxiety has adaptive functions, warning of external or internal danger, tells the body that it is necessary to take the necessary measures to prevent danger or mitigate its consequences. These measures (actions) can be conscious, for example, preparing for an exam, or unconscious (these include psychological defense mechanisms). Research scientists show that moderately developed anxiety (as a personal quality) increases a person’s chances of achieving success in school or career growth. Another thing is that the price of such success may be increased anxiety, sleep disturbance and the predominance of negative experiences over positive emotions.
As studies by B. Weiner and K. Schneider have shown, the success of activities in “anxious” and ” non- anxious ” individuals varies depending on different conditions. Anxious individuals increased their performance to a greater extent when they were informed of the success of their work, while ” non-anxious ” subjects were much more stimulated by the report of failure in trial experiments, especially when it came to difficult tasks. From these experiments, the authors conclude that it is desirable to stimulate individuals who fear possible failure with reports of success (even if insignificant) at intermediate stages of work, while individuals who are initially aimed at success are more motivated by information about failures during the task.
There are two types of anxiety: one – as a more or less stable personality trait, and the second – as an individual’s reaction to a threatening situation. Although these two types of anxiety are completely independent categories, there is a certain relationship between them. That is, any person who meets a group of drunk teenagers late in the evening on a deserted street will be alarmed (situational anxiety), but if a person is just about to go out into the street, and at the same time is already worried about a possible attack by criminals, then he has an increased level of personal anxiety .
As H. Hekhauzen points out , under the influence of circumstances that disturb and threaten a person (pain, stress, a threat to social status, etc.), the differences between highly and slightly anxious people appear more sharply. The fear of failure has a particularly strong influence on the behavior of people prone to increased anxiety, so such individuals are especially sensitive to reports of the failure of their activities, which worsen their performance. On the contrary, feedback with information about success (even fictional) stimulates such people, increasing the effectiveness of their activities.
Thus, increased anxiety, due to the fear of possible failure, is an adaptive mechanism that increases the responsibility of a person in the face of social requirements and attitudes. This once again emphasizes the social nature of the phenomenon of “anxiety”, while fear is more based on biological factors. At the same time, negative negative emotions that accompany anxiety are the “price” that a person has to pay for an increased ability to better adapt to social requirements and norms. Accordingly, in some cases, pronounced anxiety is an advantage, so with a lack of information, a “spontaneously” arising feeling of anxiety helps a person to avoid the danger that threatens him.
Several strategies can be used to overcome anxiety. Here are a few options (in fact, there are many more methods, but their choice depends on the personality of the person experiencing increased anxiety):
Since anxiety arises in a situation of lack of information, which is filled with anxiety and anxious expectations of failure, it makes sense to take care of finding the missing information.
One woman experienced heightened anxiety when entering an elevator car. If possible, she climbed up the stairs, and also tried to go down (if the office she needed was below the 6th floor). It was not a case of claustrophobia, as she tolerated confined spaces just fine. From a conversation with her, it turned out that an alarming state began to arise a couple of years ago after watching a thriller in which the elevator cable broke and it flew down at a terrible speed to the death of all its passengers. After watching this film, the woman began to cautiously enter the elevator, worrying if the cable would break at this elevator. The standard session of soothing suggestion did not improve the situation, and I drew attention to the rational course of reasoning of this woman (she had an economic education). Then we consulted an elevator specialist who, with pencil and paper in hand, very convincingly explained to her how modern elevators work. It turned out that modern elevator designs provide for special safety devices that wedged the elevator during a sharp downward movement, so that it gets stuck in the shaft. Therefore, even a cable break (which in itself is almost unbelievable) will not lead to the cabin falling down. Surprisingly, this 20-minute explanation completely calmed the woman, and her anxiety about taking the elevator subsided. I want to note that rational therapy does not always give such quick and reliable results, but in some cases it helps to significantly reduce anxiety.
The second way to reduce anxiety is to consciously stop enumerating possible negative options and focus on the desired ones. If you notice that thoughts “revolve” only around negative forecasts for a long time, you should abruptly stop the stream of consciousness, forbidding yourself to think about the bad. And then – you need to start sorting out all possible favorable scenarios. the fact is that if a person thinks “about the bad ” for a long time, then his brain subconsciously begins to realize just such a negative scenario of the future. And if you simulate a situation of success in your mind, then the likelihood of such a development of events increases significantly. It can be very difficult to forbid yourself “not to think about the white camel” (about what a person is afraid of), it is much easier to start thinking about what he wants, and besides, it is much more pleasant.
If the second strategy was, as it were, directed “inside” a person, then the third strategy is purely external. We often worry when we fear that something may not be enough for us to succeed: time, money, material resources, help from other people, etc. Accordingly, you can reduce anxiety before an important event if you stock up in advance on those resources that may be needed at the right time.
Sometimes anxiety can be reduced by developing the appropriate skills. For example, a person who is about to negotiate may be worried and anxious if he does not know how to communicate with people, a businessman who is going on a business trip to another country is anxious because he does not know a foreign language, and a beginner boxer sleeps restlessly before a fight, because knows that backhand defense is his weak spot. Accordingly, in order to reduce anxiety, the first person needs to master the techniques of active listening, the second – to learn the language, and the third – to master the blocks or escapes.
At one of my stress seminars, I was approached by an aspiring plastic window sales manager who experienced heightened anxiety in the days leading up to each of his presentations to potential client organizations. I asked him to do a short trial presentation for me, and found that his main mistake was his lack of skills to connect with the audience and identify the needs of the listeners. He spoke most of the presentation himself, causing the audience to quickly get tired and lose interest in his commercial proposal. In a few sessions, he learned to build an active two-way dialogue with the audience, during which the needs of potential clients were identified. As a result, a boring monologue turned into an interested discussion of the problem, which, on the one hand, reduced his anxiety, and on the other hand, increased the level of sales as a result.
Anxiety is a special state of the body caused by the expectation of dangers that may threaten a person in the future. It resembles fear, but differs from it in its uncertainty and focus on the future.
Anxiety can be beneficial in that it makes a person take the upcoming events more seriously and responsibly, but excessive anxiety, on the contrary, makes it difficult for a person to work. For each person there is an optimal level of anxiety, at which the effectiveness of his activity is maximum.
There are many ways to overcome anxiety: stopping fruitless thoughts about possible misfortunes, getting the missing information, mastering the necessary skills, acquiring the necessary resources, etc. Choosing the right strategy depends on the individual and the current situation.