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What is “Anxiety?”

Many definitions of anxiety have been offered throughout history.  For our present purpose, it can be defined as a sense of apprehension or dread about something that might happen in the future.


Imagine walking a dark and dangerous jungle path where tigers may lurk in the underbrush.  Would we feel warm and fuzzy at this moment?  Not likely.  We would probably experience anxiety: a sense of being threatened.


“Don’t just sit there, do something!” anxiety demands.  “Something you value may be threatened. Identify the possible threat and defend against it!”  This is the unpleasant, activated essence of anxiousness.  If we could visually capture what it feels like, it might look like this:

Anxiety, Edvard Munch (1894)


A tense apprehension.  A keyed-up feeling of dread.  A sense of, “Don’t just sit there, do something!”  We will later see that other factors, like thoughts and attention, also play roles in anxiety.  But boiled down to its essence, anxiety is an unpleasant feeling.  It is the looming sense that something could threaten the things we care about deeply.



Dylan M. Kollman, PhD