What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is commonly described as having both mental and physical symptoms. The distinction between mental and physical anxiety is important because different tools are required for addressing physical symptoms (what we label autostress) and mental symptoms (what we label anxiety).

Anxiety is best described as the unhelpful thinking patterns we experience when our mind fixates on threat, uncertainty and negativity.

Anxiety can occur on its own, as a response to stress, or it can trigger stress. When it occurs as a response to stress, it can intensify the stress, and, in worst cases, lead to panic attacks.

It’s important to understand that you cannot control anxiety from occurring – this is your brain’s automatic survival mechanism. What matters is learning how to respond to anxiety helpfully, so that you don’t get carried away by it.

  • Here are five examples of what to look out for:

Threat Scanning

When your mind searches the environment for what you fear (consciously or subconsciously). Threat scanning is often associated with your mind assigning meaning to harmless events.


• Frequently checking your body for coronavirus symptoms. • Obsessively checking the news for coronavirus updates.


When your mind jumps to worst case scenarios, i.e., ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.


• You feel chest tightness and your mind tells you that you have coronavirus and that your life is in danger.

• Your mind gives you the mental image of losing all the people you love.

Hypothetical Worry

It’s important to note that worry is completely normal. It only becomes unhelpful when you focus excessively on hypothetical worries instead of practical worries.

Hypothetical worries include ‘what if’ thoughts and are typically about things you don’t have much control over.

Practical worries concern things you do have control over, and they can help you be more proactive.

If you’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty, you’re likely prone to hypothetical worry and spend a lot of time focused on the future instead of the present.


• “I know I’m following all the guidelines, but what if I spread the virus?”
• “What if someone gets too close to me at the supermarket and I catch it?”

Emotional Reasoning

When your mind tells you that your emotions reflect reality. While emotions can act as helpful messengers, they often aren’t reliable.


• “I feel scared, so I must be in danger.”
• “I feel guilty, so I must’ve done something wrong.”

Fortune Telling

When your mind interprets predictions as facts.


• “I’m going to be stuck inside for months on end.”
• “My mental health will keep deteriorating and I’ll have to go back on meds.”

Learning how to recognise and reduce anxiety is an extremely helpful life skill.

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