Many people wonder if anxiety is an emotion? If you have read my previous post, “What is the Purpose of Emotions?” you would know that I presented the idea that the purpose of emotions is “to alert us to the fact that something is “off” in our emotional world.” Using this understanding of the purpose for emotions, will allow us to provide an answer to the question “Is anxiety an emotion?”
Does Anxiety qualify as an emotion?
In consulting the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first definition found for anxiety is “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill: a state of being anxious.” Some synonyms given for anxiety by Merriam-Webster are care, concern, anxiety, and worry.
Using our stated definition for an emotion, anxiety would qualify as being an emotion; because the purpose of anxiety is to alert us to the fact that something is “off” in our emotional world. While anxiety is an emotion, like many other emotions, it can be both bad (Toxic) and good (Healthy).
Why Healthy anxiety is a good thing
Healthy anxiety motivates you to take some type of action, to act in some way that will either diminish or end the anxious feeling.
Let me give you an example of Healthy anxiety: Let’s say you have a marketing presentation coming up next week that is pivotal to you landing a major account for your company. It would be totally appropriate and expected that you would be feeling some anxiety about this.
This anxiety is designed to alert you to the importance of this presentation and most likely the level of anxiety would go up in relation to how important this presentation is for you.
So, you’re feeling anxious. Now what? Most likely the answer would be to take the time to work on your presentation, to do whatever preparation is needed to make it the best presentation you can offer. Once you have done that and you feel confident in your preparation for the presentation, what do you think would happen to your anxiety? At a minimum it would decrease significantly and might even have resolved itself.
Now you give your presentation and you ace it! Was the anxiety you experienced worth it? Without the anxiety you might have felt complacent, not taken any time to prep, and then bombed a major presentation. However, because of your anxiety, you acknowledged what the feeling was trying to tell you and took specific, decisive action which resulted in success. Yes, the anxiety was worth it! This is how Healthy anxiety works for our benefit.
Why Toxic anxiety is not good for you.
Now let’s take a look at Toxic anxiety. Again, I’ll use an example for consideration.
You have just come from your doctor’s appointment and he/she has found a suspicious lump that he/she wants you to have biopsied. The biopsy is set for the next day, so you go home and spend the rest of the day and night worrying about what the biopsy might show.
Now you have the biopsy done and your worry continues, with the addition of all the what-ifs going through your mind. What if it’s cancer, what …. And on and on in a negative downward spiral.
A few days later you get the results, the biopsy was negative and there is no problem. You feel an intense sense of relief. This is a very normal scenario for most of us, but here is the question for you – did all the anxiety and worry you experience serve any good purpose? No matter how much you worried and played the “what if” game, did it lead you to being able to take any action about the situation? The answer obviously is “no.” You had absolutely no way whatsoever to control or change the outcome of the biopsy.
This is why Toxic anxiety is so bad for us. This type of anxiety takes both a physical (yes, I said physical) and emotional toll on us and serves no purpose! Remember that the test was negative, so all that energy was wasted! Energy that could have been spent in a lot of better ways.
But, you say, what if the result had been positive? It doesn’t change what I’ve said, you had NO CONTROL over the outcome good or bad! The goal would be to wait until you had a definitive answer. If it was negative, you didn’t waste all that physical and emotional energy for no reason and if it was positive, the time to worry is when there is actually something to be worried about because then you can take some action to address some aspects of the worry, which is Healthy.
How do you handle Toxic anxiety?
The truthful answer is, the best you can. Everyone at some point is going to experience Toxic anxiety, and nothing you are going to do will prevent it; but you can learn to be aware of it, understand that it serves no useful purpose, and do your best to give it as little influence/space as possible.
This is where, as a Pastoral Counselor, I would say the ideal is to have faith in some type of positive, good, and caring, higher power. One who you can lean on for support when you struggle with toxic anxiety. The second-best option is to have a positive support system that you can turn to for emotional support.
An additional option is to learn skills for managing Toxic anxiety when it does occur and that will be the topic of another post.
Is anxiety and emotion? As has been demonstrated in this post, the answer is most definitely a YES. It is an emotion that, like all emotions, serves the purpose of alerting us to problems in our lives and it has both its positive and negative sides.
So, when you’re experiencing Healthy anxiety, embrace it for the gift it is and use it to better manage your life. However, when you’re experiencing Toxic anxiety, acknowledge it for what it is and try to give it as little space in your life as you can.
In my next post I will address ways to manage Toxic anxiety. Please join me. Subscribe to our newsletter, below, and get notified when new articles are published.
I would also welcome your feedback on this post, as well as suggestions for future topics of interest to you.