Will anxiety ever go away?

To answer this question we must first differentiate between “situational anxiety” and “trait anxiety”.

What is situational anxiety?

Situational anxiety is anxiety that is triggered by specific events.

It is akin to fear, but whereas fear is a stress response to an immediate threat to one’s physical well-being, anxiety is a stress response due to a situation that poses a perceived threat to one’s psychological well-being.

For example, there is an important meeting scheduled at work in which you will be asked to present. There is no threat to you physically, but there is a possible threat to your job status, self-image, etc. One might be anxious until the meeting is over, and then the anxiety dissipates.

The anxiety was linked to a specific situation, and once the situation was over, the anxiety goes away. That is situational anxiety, and it obviously goes away when the situation is over.

One may have an exaggerated anxious response to a situation (e.g. public speaking, flying) which may warrant treatment to help to lessen the degree of the response, but that is situational anxiety nonetheless. Once the situation passes, the anxiety goes away.

What is trait anxiety?

Trait anxiety is a more long-term form of anxiety that reflects a tendency to respond with anxiety (i.e. a physiological stress response) in the anticipation of perceived threatening situations.

People vary in their degree of trait anxiety. There are people who are not predisposed to feel anxiety. Other people live with anxiety on a daily basis. Put another way, trait anxiety depends on the predisposition of your physiological make-up to respond in an anxious way (i.e. with a physiological stress response).

A person with a high level of trait anxiety is apt to experience anxiety until their over activated physiology finds a way to settle down.

Can trait anxiety or the degree of over activated physiology be measured?

The answer is yes. To do this we need to look at the degree of activation of the autonomic and central nervous systems.

A psychophysiological evaluation looks at the degree of reactivity of the autonomic nervous system by measuring such things as heart rate, heart rate variability, temperature, skin conductance, breath CO2 level, etc.

This is done when the person is relaxed and also during times of inducing mild stress. The person’s results are then compared with a data base to see if their physiological reactivity is more than average, and how much more. A similar thing is done to measure the reactivity of the central nervous system or brain.

A functional EEG analysis records a person’s brain activity while at rest and during a task. The results are then compared with a data base to see if the person’s brain tends to be more reactive than normal, and how much.

Lifestyle changes to improve anxiety

Can trait anxiety be reduced?

The answer is yes. Biofeedback training can help to reduce the reactivity of the autonomic nervous system, and neuro or EEG biofeedback can help to reduce the reactivity of the brain. Also, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and psychotherapy aimed at learning to quiet/calm one’s thoughts or learn ways to relax the body can also be beneficial.

So, will anxiety ever go away? Anxiety will go away if the anxiety is situational and the situation passes. It will go away if it is trait anxiety and steps are taken to reduce the reactivity of the person’s physiology.

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