Three Components of Anxiety Disorders


Physiological:  Arousal

The physiological component of anxiety manifests as the natural changes that take place in your body when a threat is perceived.  Often called the flight-or-fight response, it is nature’s way of ensuring your survival.  If we encounter a predator, we have three options:  fight, escape, or be killed or maimed.  The body prepares you for either of the first two options, in order to avoid the third.  Common physiological symptoms are:  racing/pounding heart, rapid breathing, raised body temperature, dizziness, and tingling, etc.  Some people become self-conscious if they blush, tremble, or sweat (“they can all see me blush and know that I’m scared, I’ve got to get out of here”). They fear others observing their symptoms, and judging them negatively as a result.


Cognitive: Negative fantasies of the future

The cognitive component of anxiety consists of the thoughts you think when anticipating, experiencing, and reflecting on a social situation or event. This stage often involves incessantly monitoring your performance; replaying the event over and over in your mind.  Here are some examples:

“I’ll be tongue-tied and won’t be able to think of anything to say.”

“She ignored me.  That means she doesn’t like me.  She thinks I’m not worth the time of day.”

“That was a disaster.  I never should have gone. Next time someone invites me out, I’ll just say no”


Behavioural: Avoidance Strategies

The behavioural component is comprised of the actions we take when experiencing depression or anxiety.  They can be positive (countering ineffective thoughts, taking a break and doing some deep-breathing) or negative (consuming too much alcohol; fleeing the situation).  The negative aspects can also include so called safety behaviours such as looking away, minimizing eye contact, positioning oneself on the periphery of a group, or avoiding situations altogether.



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