Situational anxiety treatment
Definition, Symptoms, and How to Cope
Feeling anxious in certain situations is natural, and it could also relate to situational anxiety.
Experiencing anxiety from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean you live with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a natural reaction to a perceived threat. This threat can be real or not, but what matters is that you think or feel you’re in danger of some kind, even if nothing is happening around you. In other words, it’s the thought of the threat that induces the symptoms of anxiety.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, anxiety could be an expected response to many situations you interpret as a possible threat.
In fact, a 2020 study showed how rates of anxiety symptoms around the world increased significantly.
But it’s possible to experience anxiety symptoms in specific situations only. Have you found that speaking in front of crowds gives you sweaty palms? Or, do you experience chest tightness when asking your manager for a raise? This is called situational anxiety.
Situational anxiety means you experience some or all symptoms of anxiety when faced with one or more specific situations. This is typically a one-time occurrence, but it could repeat over time.
In other words, situational anxiety isn’t an anxiety disorder.
For example, you experience symptoms of anxiety before the first day of school, speaking up during a meeting, or watching impactful news.
The thought that something may go wrong or go the way you fear is enough to make you experience the symptoms of anxiety.
Situation-based anxiety is common according to Sanam Hafeez, a licensed psychologist in New York City. Most everyone experiences some level of anxiety about something in their lives, she explains.
“It could be a job interview or you have to present in front of a bunch of people, or have to go to court for something, […] any of that could bring situational anxiety,” says Hafeez.
Everyone is different and those situations that make you anxious might not be the same as the ones making someone else feel this way.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), on the other hand, refers to experiencing chronic symptoms of anxiety that are not specific to any event or situation. It may be that some situations make you more anxious than others or it could be that you experience symptoms without knowing what induced them.
Formal symptoms of anxiety
Symptoms of anxiety tend to be the same for most types of anxiety disorders and for situational anxiety.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the most common symptoms are:
- chest pressure
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach
- rapid heat rate
- muscular tension
- inability to focus
- dry mouth
- changes in visual perception
- negative or irrational thoughts
- a sense of danger or impending doom
Coping with situational anxiety may be something you don’t think about until you experience anxiety. Knowing there are ways to manage these symptoms, if and whenever they come up, can help.
It might start with learning to read yourself and anticipate the symptoms so you can self-soothe.
Joanne Frederick, a licensed psychologist and author of the book “Copeology,” suggests taking note of the way your body feels and how your thoughts progress when you start feeling uncomfortable in a given situation.
“If you generally are not an anxious person, but all of a sudden you notice that your palms are sweaty, you’re talking faster, or your breathing is changing, and your stomach is upset, that can be a sign that there might be situational anxiety,” says Frederick.
Hafeez suggests reflecting on where you think the fear is really coming from and trying to talk yourself through how this feeling may not be based on evidence of what’s going on around you.
Other suggestions that may help you stop situational anxiety on the spot include:
- practicing deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to calm both your mind and body
- refocusing that anxious energy elsewhere, like physical activity
- making a mental list of the ways that your fear has not come to life in similar situations
Dismissing someone’s fears may not be helpful when you try to support them. You may feel inclined to say, “it’s OK, nothing’s going on” when you don’t experience anxiety, but try to remember the feeling is real for the other person.
Consider these tips to support someone experiencing situational anxiety:
- Listen to what they feel comfortable sharing, but don’t press too hard.
- Validate the emotions they’re sharing even if you can’t relate.
- Reassure them of their safety and your support.
- Distracting them from the immediate situation if possible, without imposing it to them.
- Allow them to take a pause or stay in place if they feel unable to move or react.
Situational anxiety is common and real. Even if you don’t live with a formal mental condition, like an anxiety disorder, you can experience symptoms of anxiety in specific situations.
Hafeez says it may be more than situational anxiety if you notice you experience symptoms more frequently or intensely and they start to interfere with how you navigate life. This may indicate you could use the support of a mental health professional.
If this is your case, reaching out for professional help can support your efforts to manage how you feel and the impact it has on your life.
Situational anxiety: Symptoms, examples, and coping
Situational anxiety is anxiety that occurs in unfamiliar or new situations. It is not a distinct condition, but a way of describing how anxiety affects someone.
Many people experience situational anxiety at some point in their lives. When it is mild, situational anxiety does not require treatment.
However, there are ways of addressing situational anxiety so that it has less impact on a person’s life. This might be beneficial if it is something that affects them frequently. For example, if a person often has to travel away from home and finds this stressful, they may want to address their situational anxiety.
In this article, learn more about situational anxiety, including what it is, the signs and symptoms, examples, the treatment options, and ways of coping.
Situational anxiety happens in response to new or unfamiliar situations. For example, a person might feel situational anxiety if their employer asks them to take on a new responsibility, or if they travel overseas for the first time.
This type of anxiety does not necessarily indicate that a person has an anxiety disorder. To an extent, many people experience situational anxiety at some point in their life.
Situational anxiety is not a distinct medical condition. Instead, it is a way of describing the typical anxiety that many people experience when they are out of their “comfort zone.”
As a result, people typically only experience situational anxiety occasionally — usually when they do something new or challenging.
In contrast, anxiety disorders have a substantial effect on a person’s daily life. Below are some comparisons.
Situational anxiety vs. generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
People with GAD feel anxious about a range of things, even if the event about which they are worried is not currently happening or may never happen.
This is different than situational anxiety, which is usually more specific and applies to the present moment. People with situational anxiety only feel anxious about things that are going to happen or are currently happening.
Situational anxiety vs. social anxiety
On the surface, situational anxiety and social anxiety can seem very similar. They do have some overlap, as people with social anxiety can also fear events that commonly cause situational anxiety.
The difference between them is that social anxiety disorder symptoms do not only occur in new or unfamiliar social situations — they occur in many social situations.
The reason for this is that social anxiety develops due to a general fear of negative judgment from others. A person may consistently worry that others will dislike them, even if there are no consequences if this is the case.
In contrast, people experiencing situational anxiety might fear negative judgment only when there are consequences.
For example, the consequences of a job interviewer disliking someone could be that they do not get the career they want. Being aware of this can cause a person to feel additional pressure to impress. This is also known as performance anxiety.
The symptoms of situational anxiety are the same as those of other forms of anxiety. The only difference is that they occur in specific situations.
A person with anxiety may feel:
They may also have physical symptoms, such as:
- a rapid heartbeat
- fast, shallow breathing
- shaky hands
- tense muscles
Learn more about the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Below are some common examples of situational anxiety:
- Public speaking: A fear of public speaking is very common, even among people who experience little anxiety in other facets of life. People may feel anxious about giving presentations, making speeches, or leading meetings.
- Job interviews or auditions: These events have high stakes. Due to this, many people experience situational anxiety ahead of interviews and auditions, even if they are typically confident.
- Meeting new people: Going on a first date, talking with an important contact, or meeting someone a person admires can all cause situational anxiety.
- Traveling away from home: Leaving home for somewhere unfamiliar can cause situational anxiety, even if a person is looking forward to the trip.
- Trying new things: People often feel some situational anxiety the first time they try things, such as riding a bike, swimming, or going on an airplane.
Some of these examples, such as a fear of public speaking, overlap with social anxiety.
Situational anxiety is not a distinct medical condition that psychologists diagnose. However, it can still have a significant effect on a person’s life, and a person can get help dealing with it.
For example, if a person wants a career that features a lot of foreign travel, they may wish to seek support in reducing their anxiety around this specific activity. A doctor, therapist, or counselor can offer advice on the best approaches.
It is also important to note that situational anxiety and anxiety disorders can be hard to tell apart. A doctor or licensed therapist will be able to help a person understand which type they have.
If a person needs or wants to reduce their situational anxiety, they have various options.
Graded exposure therapy
This type of therapy involves gradual exposure to the source of the fear. A person starts with a very small and achievable goal, such as taking a day trip to a nearby town. They then work toward more challenging goals, such as going on a weekend vacation and then perhaps an overseas trip.
A person only moves on to the next step when they feel comfortable with the previous one. This allows them to get familiar with the new situation and feel confident that they can handle it.
Learn more about exposure therapy.
Most medications that doctors prescribe for anxiety require a person to take them regularly. For example, people need to take serotonin reuptake inhibitors every day consistently, otherwise they do not work.
However, there are some anti-anxiety medications that people can take in one-off doses. This includes drugs such as benzodiazepines, which are a type of sedative.
A doctor may prescribe a limited amount of these medications to people who need help staying calm in specific situations, such as when they travel via plane.
However, the body becomes dependent on benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers quickly, and some people can develop an addiction. Doctors only prescribe them for one-off or short-term use.
People who experience situational anxiety regularly because of their job or lifestyle should not use anti-anxiety medications as a long-term solution.
Coping strategies can help people handle anxiety when it arises. For situational anxiety, it may help to make a pre-performance routine. The aim of this is to reduce the uncertainty surrounding a new or unfamiliar situation.
A pre-performance routine could include:
- Gathering information: A person may wish to research the place they are going, find out the people who are attending, or look at pictures to familiarize themselves with locations or names.
- Preparing: To reduce stress on the day, people may feel better if they minimize the uncertainty by preparing in advance. This might include choosing what they will wear, packing bags, preparing a meal, or setting an alarm.
- Rehearsing: People may feel more confident the more they rehearse a speech, performance, or travel route. For example, if they have a job interview and are nervous about finding their way, they could practice the journey the weekend before.
- Self-care: It is easy to neglect self-care during times of stress, but it can help a person relax. They can try to make time for a calming activity before a stressful event. If possible, they should plan a relaxing evening the night before and get enough sleep. It is best to avoid things that can exacerbate anxiety, such as caffeine.
Situational anxiety is anxiety that occurs in new or unfamiliar situations. Often, it occurs when a person has to leave their “comfort zone,” such as when they are traveling far from home.
Many people experience situational anxiety from time to time. It does not necessarily need treatment, but if a person is frequently in situations that give them this type of anxiety, they may wish to speak with a therapist.
Personal and situational anxiety. Diagnosis of situational and personal anxiety
Anxiety is an individual psychological feature that reflects the experience of emotional discomfort and a premonition of imminent danger. The concept of anxiety in psychology was first introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1925 as an irrational deep state, not fixed to objects and phenomena. The question of the causes of anxiety is still being discussed in psychology. There is a point of view that a certain level of anxiety in the structure of the psyche has a natural basis associated with the endocrine and nervous systems.
The cause of anxiety can be an intrapersonal conflict that is formed in the process of upbringing and life. From a psychological point of view, there is situational (reactive) and personal anxiety. An optimal level of anxiety is necessary for effective personality adjustment and is adaptive. And high and excessively low levels of anxiety can lead to maladjustment.
Personal anxiety is formed from early childhood, based on the individual characteristics of the individual and under the influence of external factors, as well as types of education.
An increase in the level of personal anxiety, as a rule, is associated with the formation of an intrapersonal conflict and is manifested by a feeling of constant danger, a feeling of uncertainty, concern, tension and impending failure, anxious expectation, indefinite anxiety, or as a feeling of an indefinite threat, the nature and time of which cannot be predicted. An increased level of intrapersonal anxiety is difficult to correct and is the basis for the formation of serious neurotic disorders.
A person experiencing increased anxiety, being in constant tension, aimlessly spends his psychophysical resources, later feeling tired, drowsy and unable to cope with the tasks. People prone to increased anxiety are often closed, unsociable, distant from others. Personal anxiety affects all areas of human life: it reduces self-esteem and motivation, makes communication difficult, and so on.
There is another type of anxiety - situational. Situational or situational anxiety is characterized by the state of the individual at a certain point in time and is associated with external factors that cause a "vital" or social threat. Such anxiety is a response to changes in circumstances that are regarded by the subject as stressful. When the irritating factor dries up, the individual's condition returns to normal. Reactive anxiety can be provoked by a variety of reasons: a difficult political and economic situation, natural disasters, negative news, problems in the family and at work, own baggage of bad experiences, fears. At the physiological level, the anxiety reaction is manifested by an increase in heart rate, increased breathing, increased blood pressure, a decrease in the threshold of sensitivity and an increase in general excitability as a desire to change a difficult life situation.
In psychology, there are special methods that allow you to determine the level of general anxiety (Taylor method), as well as separately the levels of situational and personal anxiety (Spielberger-Khanin method). Low and medium levels of personal and situational anxiety do not need to be corrected. In this case, we are talking about good adaptive capabilities of a person who is able to independently make decisions in difficult situations and realize the cause of his anxiety. In the case of an increase in the level of reactive anxiety, it is necessary to carry out medical correction, in particular, using preparations containing the trace element lithium. Studies show that the drug Normotim can effectively and safely reduce the level of anxiety and stabilize the emotional state. Thanks to its anti-stress activity, Normotim can reduce the effect of stress on the body and prevent an increase in the level of anxiety. Its appointment should be carried out by a specialist who selects and adjusts the dose of the drug taken.
reasons to get rid of. How to Reduce Anxiety in Adults
Anxiety is a feeling familiar to everyone. A certain level of anxiety is a completely normal reaction of the body to situations occurring around a person. It is she who helps to mobilize forces and move forward.
However, anxiety does not always have a positive effect on a person. If adults have anxiety for biased reasons, constant suspiciousness, then you should pay special attention to your health.
What is anxiety, what are its causes, symptoms and how to get rid of it?
A high level of personal anxiety and how to deal with it
Anxiety is an emotional experience associated with a sense of danger, excessive anxiety and fear. It is worth noting that a high degree of anxiety can be situational in nature, or it can be inherent in a person’s personality.
Personality Anxiety is a person's tendency to experience anxiety based on their own personality traits.
Such anxiety is manifested not only in human behavior. It also creates a certain unfavorable background for the psyche, which does not have the best effect on the life of the body.
High anxiety in adults affects the quality of life. It is difficult for such persons to achieve success in their careers, personal lives, and relationships with people. However, this can be fought.
How to reduce the high level of personal anxiety in an adult?
Of course, one cannot do without the help of doctors. After all, the human psyche is a very delicate thing, the work with which must be trusted only to professionals. Be prepared for the fact that you will have to visit a doctor not for 2 weeks, but much longer. But life without the constant feeling of anxiety is worth it.
Feeling of situational increased anxiety: symptoms and consequences
There is also a state of increased anxiety associated with the onset of adverse situations. If such a syndrome has a long temporal duration, then it is no less dangerous than high personal anxiety.
The causes of this condition can be varied. This is dismissal from work, and moving to another city, and problems in relationships with family and friends.
Among the symptoms of increased anxiety are:
At the psychological level:
2. Feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.
3. Constant voltage.
At the physiological level:
1. Increased heartbeat.
2. Jumps in blood pressure.
3. Sleep disorders.
4. Rapid breathing.
A series of failures, accompanied by these manifestations, can lead to quite serious consequences for human health. Most often, this provokes neuroses and depressive states.
Reducing anxiety in adults: how to achieve the desired effect?
It is not only possible, but necessary, to protect yourself from the risk of mental disorders, which can be caused by excessive anxiety! How do you deal with increased anxiety?
It is not possible to fight this state alone.