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Your quiz results suggest what type of "false alarms" you may have developed over time. 

If you selected mostly As, you likely experience anxiety in social situations. You may have developed a false alarm exaggerating the likelihood and costliness of being negatively evaluated by others. Click the button below to learn more.

If you selected mostly Bs, you likely experience a lot of worry, particularly in uncertain situations. You may have developed a false alarm exaggerating the likelihood and costliness of catastrophic events, or unexpected negative events occurring. Click the button below to learn more.

If you selected mostly Cs, you likely experience a lot of physical anxiety, or even panic. You may have developed a false alarm telling you that physical sensations of anxiety are dangerous. Click the button below to learn more.

If you selected mostly Ds, your anxiety may not fall into one of these categories. Click the button below to learn more.

If you selected a mix of different answers, you may be experiencing a little bit of each of these. Please click the buttons below to learn more about the topics you selected and would like to learn more about.

 

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is the most common form of anxiety, and it's easy to see why. It's natural to want to make a good impression on others and to be liked.

 

However, social anxiety becomes a problem when it gets so severe that you start dreading social situations or avoiding them, and not doing things you want to do.

 

You can think of social anxiety as your anxiety's alarm system being triggered when there is a fear of being evaluated

 

negatively. In other words, when you are worried about being judged negatively by others, your anxiety alarm goes off as if you were in a physically dangerous situation.

 

So even though you're meeting a new person or at a party, your body is reacting the same way it would if a bear was chasing you! Therefore, being around people and the potential of being judged negatively is a false alarm.

How does this happen? Usually people have always been a bit shy and social anxiety often gets worse around people's early 20s. Usually it is triggered by some kind of stressor, like moving away to college. Oftentimes, people start avoiding situations that make them nervous.

 

For example, let's say Allison is really nervous about going to a party. She's worried that she won't have anyone to talk to. She goes anyway and ends up running into some people she knows and has a good conversation. She learned that her feared outcome didn't happen - she actually did have people to talk to.

 

Next time she's invited to a party, she will probably be less nervous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also other things she could have done, like gone to the party for a little bit, but got too anxious and left early. Or she could have stuck close to a friend the whole time. Or went to the party but stayed on her phone most of the time to look busy. All of these things have one thing in common: they are safety aids. They make her feel better in the moment, but in the long run, they are just like avoidance. They don't give her the chance to learn the facts about the situation.

 

For example, if she stayed next to a friend the whole time, she would have learned, "The only reason that went okay is because I had my friend with me. If I didn't, I would have had no one to talk to. It would've been a disaster." The next time she goes to a party, she will still have the same fears - that she won't have anyone to talk to, and that people will think she's weird.

It's also easy to see why Allison would want to avoid social situations. Her body is basically telling her that she is in a dangerous situation and needs to escape! It is difficult to remain in these situations, but her anxiety is a false alarm. She is actually safe and staying in the situation will help her learn that.

What if she got too anxious and didn't go to the party?

 

She would have never gotten the chance to learn if her fears were realistic or not. She would probably feel disappointed in herself and sad about missing out on the party.

 

The next time she's invited to a party, she will be just as nervous, and just as likely to avoid it. This teaches her social situations are to be feared and avoided. 

Worry

 

Worry and generalized anxiety are also very common forms of anxiety. This makes sense because worry is helpful - it helps us to identify and resolve possible threats. But worry can become a problem when it's all you can focus on, or causes you to alter your behavior.

Worries can be about any topic -finances, health, safety,

friends, family, school, or anything else!

Worries do all have one thing in common: they are

fears of something terrible or catastrophic happening.

 

Worrying can be used as a way to actually avoid fears.

For example, when Jim worries about his wife being in a car accident, he doesn't actually picture the car accident and his wife getting injured. Instead, he might think if she did get into an accident how they would pay her bills, if he would be able to care for her, and how upset he would feel if she was hurt.

 

Jim's worries aren't helping to solve the problem, because there isn't one! Nor are they helping to prevent a problem, because his worries do not affect whether or not his wife is in an accident. 

 

All his worries are doing are causing anxiety. However, worrying makes Jim feel better than thinking about the scary image of his wife in an accident, and makes him feel productive by imagining potential solutions.

How does this all start? Again, most of the time people start off as being "worriers." Over time, this can worsen, especially in the mid to late 20s, or if you experience a stressor.

 

Over time, people come up with plenty of safety aids to cope with their worries. Maybe they repeatedly check in on loved ones to make sure they are safe, seek reassurance from doctors about their health, excessively check over their assignments to make sure they are perfect, or avoid doing things that might be dangerous or upsetting. These behaviors again reinforce the anxiety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For example, if Jim calls his wife to check if she is okay, he feels immense relief. He feels much better after checking in, so he will most likely do it again next time.

 

However, his relief is short-lived. The next time he has a worry, he will feel as though he needs to check that everything is okay, rather than telling himself the facts (there is no reason to believe a  catastrophe happened).

 

If Jim had simply waited for his wife to get home, he would have learned she was okay and there was no cause to worry. He would have learned that he can handle his anxiety without turning to others.

It's easy to see why people make efforts to relieve their anxiety. Anxiety is unpleasant, and safety aids often provide the quick relief we want. Unfortunately, all they do is reinforce the same pattern of worrying, safety aid, relief, and, in the future, more worrying.

 

Refraining from safety aids can teach us that our feared situations are very unlikely to happen, and that we can handle our anxiety.

 

Panic

Sometimes fears can be about anxiety itself.

 

Many people worry about having panic attacks, or the sensations of anxiety. For example, some people fear that a racing heart might mean one is having a heart attack, or that trouble concentrating means one is going "crazy."

Think about the last time you were in a dangerous situation, like if you were crossing the street and a car was coming at you.

Your body likely had a reaction - a true alarm! You jumped into action and got out of the way of the car. Did you notice your heart racing, sweating, narrowing of focus?

 

Probably not until after. Why? You were focused on the threat - a car racing toward you.

Let's say you have these same sensations in the middle of a class. Naturally, you might start to wonder why you are having them. There is no obvious threat, but you feel like you are in danger. Our minds start to search for a solution, and may begin to think - there must be something physically or mentally wrong with me.

 

Again, this makes sense. If our body is sending an alarm, it makes sense for us to try to figure out what is wrong. Unfortunately, some of our ideas about what is wrong are incorrect. As we discussed, your anxiety is adaptive and helpful. It does not indicate something is "wrong" with you, physically or mentally.

For example, let's say Maria is in class when suddenly she

notices her heart racing. She begins to lose focus on what the

teacher is saying and instead focuses on her heart. She worries

something is wrong. Maybe she has a heart problem, and is

having a medical emergency.

 

These scary thoughts cause her heart to race more, making her

even more convinced something is wrong. She becomes so

alarmed that she leaves the classroom to go home and lay down.

The problem is, the more we focus on something, the more we

notice it. If we are always scanning our bodies to search for

problems, we will find one!

 

Our bodies are always in flux, and often harmless incidents can cause changes in our bodies. For example, maybe Maria had a little too much coffee this morning. Or maybe she rushed into class and her heart was still beating hard from the exertion. Maybe she was a little bit anxious about something else, causing her heart to race.

 

There are plenty of harmless explanations for Maria's experience. If she had thought of those, she would most likely not have felt more anxious, and not experienced an increase in racing heart.

After assuming something was wrong, Maria then engaged in a safety aid: leaving the classroom. She could have used many other safety aids, such as Googling her symptoms, checking her pulse, taking a Xanax, texting her mom for reassurance that she was okay, or drinking water. Regardless, the result is the same.

 

Leaving the classroom teaches Maria that she was actually in danger, and the only way she got through the episode was by leaving the classroom. She begins to associate heart racing with danger, and maybe even the classroom with danger. In the future, she will feel similarly or worse in a similar situation.

What if she stayed in class? She would have learned that the racing heart would naturally go away on its own over time. She would have learned that she was safe. Next time, she would feel less nervous.

It's easy to see why Maria left. Her body was telling her she was in a dangerous situation! However, resisting the urge to engage in safety aids can help us to retrain our bodies to know what is safe, and what is dangerous. This will help our anxiety alarms to only "go off" at the right time - when we are in danger!

 

Other

There are many other types of anxiety and related disorders: 

  • Illness anxiety disorder includes fear and worry abut health

  • Specific phobias are fears of one specific object or situation, like:

    • Animal (e.g., fear of dogs, snakes, or spiders) 

    • Natural (e.g., fear of water, storms) 

    • Situational (e.g., driving, elevators, enclosed spaces) 

    • Blood-injury-injection

    • Other (e.g., loud noises)

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves unwanted memories of a traumatic event and avoidance of reminders of the trauma 

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves repeated unwanted thoughts or images (obsessions), along with repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

    • Fears within OCD are often related to religion and morality, germs and contamination, harm, unacceptable thoughts such as harming others or those of a sexual nature, and concerns about symmetry or neatness.

Maybe your anxiety is more like one of these categories, or maybe it does not neatly fit into one category. Either way, you can still use the same strategies to reduce your anxiety: fading out safety aids and facing your fears.

Let's use illness anxiety as an example. Evan has fears about his health. Several months ago, he began having headaches, and become convinced he had a brain tumor.

 

Evan searched online for his symptoms, and scheduled an appointment with his physician, who informed him the headaches were nothing to worry about.

 

Evan went home, but continued to worry. He found some worrisome information online, so checked back with his doctor, who repeated nothing was wrong.

 

Finally, Evan insisted on getting a scan to look at the inside of his brain. When that came back normal, Evan continued to have lingering fears, and kept checking his body for any irregular sensations. He continued to call his doctor to discuss any new symptoms, and would query his family as to whether they thought he was "okay."

 

Here, Evan's own bodily sensations are serving as a false alarm. He is using safety aids, like checking his body, seeing his doctor, excessively searching for information, to relieve his anxiety. However, no matter how much he tries, he is still anxious. Why?

 

His behaviors are reinforcing his idea that something is wrong. Googling his symptoms temporarily makes him feel better because he is getting information. However,the same comes back soon enough and he is just as scared, if not more so.  The problem is, there is no information that will make him 100% certain nothing is wrong - just like nothing in life is 100% certain.

On the other hand, what if Evan listened to his doctor and stopped behaving as if anything was wrong? He would stop detecting signs of illness. He would eventually learn that he is safe and not in danger, and would no longer need to seek outside reassurance. 

 

Again, although his anxiety alarm is telling him something is wrong - it's not! He needs to face his fears by accepting the fact that one can never be 100% certain about anything, but that there is no evidence anything is wrong. By doing so, he would also learn that his anxiety would go away on its own over time.

Let's list a few common examples from other disorders:​​​

  • PTSD can often involve safety aids such as:

    • Constantly scanning one's environment for danger​

    • Taking fast-acting anxiety medication to reduce anxiety

    • Avoiding being alone

    • Drinking or using drugs to reduce intrusive memories

    • Avoiding certain people, situations, or topics of conversation

    • Attempting to block out upsetting thoughts from one's mind

OCD is unique in that safety aids can be considered part of the diagnosis. Compulsions or rituals, repetitive behaviors designed to reduce distress, are themselves safety aids. Examples are:

  • Handwashing

  • Arranging items

  • Repeating something until it feels "just right"

  • Checking

  • Reassurance seeking

  • Avoiding situations that could trigger unwanted thoughts

  • Counting up to certain numbers, avoiding certain words, doing routine things in a particular pattern or way

  • Excessive cleaning

© 2017 by  Nicole Short, Florida State University

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