Restlessness, fear, bewilderment, disappointment ...

Restlessness, fear, embarrassment, despair ... Although we experience them almost in the same way, anxiety and anguish present small but notable differences. They are as follows.

Anxiety and anguish, how are they different?... Both psychological states seem to run in the same sphere, in a dimension in which it is difficult to separate one from the other, to set boundaries between one type of discomfort and the other. Sigmund Freud, for example, focused on describing the second, on delving into that distressing state that grips the person intensely at some point in their life.

Anguish has been seen for decades as that pain that troubles and adheres to the body and mind. The world of philosophy, for its part, frequently addressed this concept. Thus, Søren Kierkegaard spoke of this feeling as the fear that traps us with its coldness when, suddenly, we become aware of the transience of life, Also, when we are aware that each decision can determine our future ...

Regarding anxiety, the psychotherapist Albert Ellis defined it as that tendency to worry excessively about everything and everything almost every moment. One can live in the dark company of this psychological state for months and even years. Anguish, for its part, is that suffering that distresses and imprisons us at a given moment, with its distaste, with its willingness to place us before the abyss, as Martin Heidegger pointed out.

Let's dig a little deeper.

Anxiety and anguish: in the nuances is the difference

Anxiety and distress have long been considered similar entities. The "culprit" of it or rather the promoter of these concepts so decisive in the field of psychology was Sigmund Freud himself . At the beginning of the 20th century, he described these states of fear, despair, psychic distress and physiological activation with the German term A ngst.

Now, in turn, he wanted to differentiate two typologies: "realistic anguish" and "neurotic anguish", the latter being a more pathological condition, unlike the former, which would define the classic existential and specific discomfort that we feel when faced with contradictions or challenges. of the life. Later, the German expression angst was translated into English as anxiety.

Thus, and almost without realizing it, both spheres sailed together in non-clinical settings for a few decades until, little by little, and with the development of psychology and its different schools and approaches, both concepts have become different. Thus, in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) we have a section that describes the set of anxiety disorders as such.

Anguish, for its part, is more closely linked to those states of intense and mobilizing fear, which we can experience, for example, during panic attacks. It should also be noted that the psychoanalytic and humanist currents continue to use this term to speak of anxiety, that is, there are non-clinical areas and approaches that continue without differentiating one state from another.

Anxiety, an adaptive response

We cannot live without it. Anxiety is part of who we are and thanks to its mechanism we face difficulties and act in the face of dangers. The approach to this dimension so characteristic of the human being was late, but today we already know its psychological importance and the impact it can have when it is not handled, when it surpasses us.

  • Anxiety defines a combination of different physical and mental manifestations that are not always attributable to real dangers.
  • It is a complex and multidimensional entity that includes cognitive, emotional and physiological aspects. Its main characteristic is that it arises as a result of an activation of the autonomic nervous system .
  • Likewise, anxiety is almost always anticipatory. That is, it allows us to foresee certain dangers to act against them. However, sometimes we fall into a state of excessive worry in which, suddenly, our entire reality is filled with unreal threats.
  • Anxiety can be experienced in a generalized way . That is, sometimes the person can spend weeks, months or years feeling a hyperarousal, a fear, diffuse and persistent discomfort. Other times, this state is focused on very specific dimensions defining what we know as phobias .

The anguish, the emotion that overwhelms

The main difference between anxiety and anguish is that the former is a psychophysiological state, the latter an emotion, a feeling that overwhelms and immobilizes. If sometimes we dilute both concepts and we hardly see the limit of one with the other, it is because anxiety is part of anxiety, it manifests itself with it.

Let's see however its main characteristics:

  • Anxiety and anguish differ in that the latter is experienced in a punctual way and not maintained over time. An example, states of anguish are common in panic attacks , it is a moment in which despair grips and immobilizes us.
  • Its main characteristic is to prevent us from acting and reacting to what is gripping us . Anxiety, on the other hand, well managed and used in our favor, has one purpose: to help us react to any challenge, danger or concern.
  • Anguish is an entity made up of biological, psychological, social and existential factors.
  • As Freud pointed out in his day, there are two types of anxiety. We have, on the one hand, that state in which we can regret at a given moment the future of our existence. On the other, we can also find ourselves with that pathological anguish that manifests itself in a panic disorder, with depression or even psychosis.

That is, anxiety and anguish have as their main defining nuance that the second is that state that can appear in many psychological disorders to show the most extreme awe. Thus, while anxiety constitutes that adaptive mechanism without which we could not live, anxiety, as Soren Kierkegaard pointed out, is the vertigo that suffering brings.

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