ANXIETY: Behavioural, COGNITIVE AND PHYSIOLOGICAL COMPONENTS

The three components of anxiety are listed below:

  1. As already mentioned, the strictly behavioural component is activated with the aim of reacting to a situation and re-establishing optimum conditions of wellbeing. Here there are two possibilities: coping with the problem directly or simply avoiding it. In the first case, if we are confronted by an unexpected situation we are not prepared for, we will probably react by analyzing the problem and preparing an adequate solution. In the case of avoidance however, we will tend to put off contending with the problem, thereby attaining a sense of immediate relief, but this can give rise to feelings of guilt and may damage our self-esteem. This will then increase the risk that such situations will occur again in the future as if by habit.

  2. The cognitive component is represented by a series of mental processes that have the purpose of evaluating oneself and the situation we are in. These processes include:
    * concentrating exclusively on aspects perceived as being the most threatening;
    * evaluating reality in an unrealistic and irrational manner: for example, considering a judgement regarding the success or lack of success in a particular task as a global and absolute judgement of oneself ("If I can’t do this, I’m a failure.");
    * self-effacing opinions and the belittling of one’s potential or capacity: for example, believing we cannot perform a certain task, that we do not have what it takes, that we simply can’t manage it;
    * catastrophizing: or, in other words, overestimating the external situation to the point of becoming convinced it is something we cannot control, and feeling so overwhelmed by events it is as if we were facing a major disaster;
    * perfectionism: the tendency to continuously put off addressing an issue, problem or evaluation on the part of others until some future moment when we feel we are perfectly prepared.

  3. A physiological basis that prepares the organism (the person) for action. The main physiological modifications are:
    * an increase in muscular tension, with a consequent increase in blood flow to the muscles (so as to be able to react promptly with a flight or fight response if necessary);
    * tachycardia (rapid heartbeat, with perceptible acceleration of the heart rate), which has the purpose of pumping a greater quantity of blood to parts of the body that have been activated, and an increase in blood pressure;
    * hyperventilation: an increase in respiratory frequency beyond our control. This may lead to dizziness and, in serious cases, to cloudy vision and a progressive decrease in one’s capacity to comprehend the situation we are in;
    * an increase in the organism’s sensibility towards external agents: for example, increased dilation of the pupils and sensitivity to pain.

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