We all experience anxiety from time to time as this is a vital part of our lives and a natural human emotional response to some circumstances. It is helpful for identifying and reacting to dangerous situations in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Anxiety serves the positive function of warning us about potentially harmful things that we might need to worry about. This state also can motivate us to deal with complicated challenges and even perform better. Moreover, the right amount of anxiety stimulates creativity and actions by quickening our reflexes or focusing our attention.
But there is another side to this psychological state. In some cases, it causes severe emotional distress and has a negative impact on our physical and mental state.
According to the statistics, nearly 20% of people feel anxious most of the time. Hence, it’s one of the most common mental health issues all over the world. But still, it often remains under-reported and under-treated. To solve this problem, we need to understand and engage with it better, so let’s become more ‘anxiety aware’.
What is situational anxiety? Situational anxiety is the type of anxiety triggered by some specific events.
It is similar to fear but there is some difference. Namely, fear is considered a stress response to an immediate threat to one’s physical well-being, while anxiety is defined as a stress response to a situation that might pose a perceived threat to one’s psychological well-being.
The intensity and duration of this state can vary dramatically depending on personality traits and settings.
The reason for situational anxiety might be an important meeting scheduled at work. Obviously, there is nothing threatening to a person physically, but there is a potential threat to their reputation, job status, or self-image. So one can get anxious just until the meeting is over. Once it comes to its end, situational anxiety dissipates.
Other examples of situational anxiety are the fear of flying or a test at a school that are totally normal. As you see, situational anxiety is a subjective feeling of an unpleasant, fearful emotion that is always linked to a specific event. Once the immediate situation is over, uneasiness goes away.
As mentioned above, anxiety is a normal reaction of our internal alert system that warns us about some threats and prepares our bodies to deal with a dangerous situation.
A manageable amount of anxiety can be helpful, while overwhelming or unmanageable feelings that come up unexpectedly may become a problem. Let’s find out the difference between normal situational anxiety and an anxiety disorder.
First of all, situational anxiety is related to a specific problem, while it comes up unexpectedly, for seemingly no reason in disorder. Accordingly, situational anxiety lasts only as long as a certain situation or problem, whereas in another case it may last even when they have been resolved. Moreover, normal anxiety is proportional to the situation that has occurred, whereas a disorder feels impossible to control. Normal situational anxiety means a realistic response to a realistic situation, while an anxiety disorder makes people respond to a problem that likely will never happen. Moreover, the response is typically much stronger than one would expect.
Situational anxiety may include various symptoms, such as diarrhea, muscle tension, nausea, sweating, dry mouth, lightheadedness, restlessness, or trembling. Individuals struggling with situational anxiety may also experience increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and dizziness. Some people have difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping. Besides, irritability, nervousness, feelings of worry, and panic are other possible symptoms of situational anxiety.
In order to avoid all the mentioned above, people may start avoiding situations that they know will trigger an anxiety response.
In order to effectively reduce anxiety, professionals first need to measure it with the help of reliable and valid instruments. After it has been identified, situational anxiety can be managed using self-help coping strategies and professional treatment with the help of psychotherapy.
The most widely-used therapy for situational anxiety is CBT, which addresses negative thinking patterns and distortions in the way we perceive the world and ourselves. With the help of CBT, one examines how negative thoughts contribute to anxiety and how one behaves in situations that trigger anxiety. The fundamental premise of this approach is that our thoughts affect the way we feel. So it’s not the situation that determines how one feels, but one’s perception of the situation.
Exposure therapy is another method commonly used for anxiety treatment. People typically avoid situations that make them anxious. But the problem is that avoiding fears means that one never gets the chance to overcome them. In fact, it often makes them even stronger. So exposure therapy makes one face the situations they fear. The idea is that repeated exposures help to feel an increasing sense of control over the situation and diminish anxiety.
The most common medications prescribed by doctors for anxiety treatment are Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), or Ativan (lorazepam).