Anxiety Introduction

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One of the best definitions of anxiety, put forth over fifteen years ago by Kandel (1983), remains highly apt and appropriate today: "Anxiety is a normal inborn response either to threat—to one's person, attitudes, or self-esteem—or to the absence of people or objects that assure and signify safety" (p. 1277).

Anxiety is an emotion and state of mind characterized by aversive cognitive (apprehensive expectation of negative experience or consequences), physiologic (autonomic hyper-arousal with multiple somatic symptoms), and behavioral (hypervigilance, avoidance, paralysis of action) components. Its relationship to fear states in animals is ambiguous. Fear is an adaptive response to a clear-cut, external threat; anxiety is excessive or inappropriate in relation to the stimulus and often extends well beyond the provoking situation (i.e., the cognitive aspect of anxious anticipation and uncertainty about the future). This distinction may simply reflect the highly complex and more developed human brain, whose frontal lobes allow for a degree of planning and rehearsal of future events not possible in animals, along with a capacity for symbolism that facilitates multiple higherorder contextual associations with negative affect. Although a certain amount of anxiety, analogous to fear, is adaptive in helping the organism prepare a response to a demanding situation, excess anxiety is maladaptive, characterizes a number of the clinical anxiety disorders, and also occurs as a significant symptom complex in other psychiatric disorders, most notably depression.

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