Anxiety is one of the fundamental emotions, as central a part of what it means to be human as happiness, sadness, or anger. If you were asked to recall the last time you felt anxious, doubtless you wouldn’t have to look back very far.
In its more severe forms, anxiety is also one of the most common types of psychological disorder, with millions of people around the world affected at any one time.
There’s no doubting the importance of anxiety, then. But though we all experience this emotion, perhaps on a regular basis, for many of us it can seem a pretty mysterious experience. Rather like the biblical description of the wind, we recognize anxiety when it arrives but know neither where it’s come from nor where it’s going.
So we begin this Very Short Introduction by defining the meaning of anxiety. We attempt to pin down what anxiety is; what it feels like; and what its purpose might be. Though everyone feels anxious from time to time, how often we experience anxiety and how severely it affects us varies from person to person. To understand why this is, in Chapter 2 we focus on the four main theoretical perspectives on anxiety: the psychoanalytic, behavioural, cognitive, and neurobiological. We build on this discussion in Chapter 3 by considering how our genes and life experiences influence our susceptibility to anxiety.
After these theoretical explorations, we hope Chapter 4 will come as an engaging — but illuminating — diversion. In it, we present interviews specially conducted for this book with the actor, writer, and director Michael Palin and the former England football manager Graham Taylor. Each of them describes their experience of anxiety in their working lives and sets out the steps they have taken to combat it.
In the second half of the book, we switch our focus to what happens when anxiety is sufficiently severe to be considered a clinical problem. We devote a chapter to each of the six main anxiety disorders covered in psychiatric classification systems: phobia; social phobia; panic disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; obsessive-compulsive disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. We conclude the book by assessing the various treatment options for anxiety problems. Here the advent of highly effective cognitive behavioural therapies means that there are real grounds for optimism.
Anxiety is both absolutely normal and fascinatingly complex. It is also the focus of much cutting-edge contemporary psychological research and clinical practice. We draw on that research and practice throughout this book, but have sought to present it as clearly as possible. So we hope you’ll find that this isn’t just an authoritative guide to the nature of anxiety, it’s an accessible and entertaining one too.
List of illustrations
1 An illustration of ’terror’ from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
2 Aaron T. Beck
3 Joseph LeDoux
4 The brain, showing the location of the amygdala
5 Michael Palin
© Basil Pao
6 Graham Taylor
© Provided courtesy of Watford Football Club David Clark