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Explanations > Emotions > Anxiety

Anxiety is... | Anxious thinking | Personality | Persuasion | So what


Anxiety is...

Anxiety is a general form of fear where we think about the future and anticipate misfortune in either not getting the things we desire or that things we do not want to happen will occur.

Anxious thinking

One of the things that make us human is our concern for the future. Our natural state when we are not thinking of other things is to daydream and we spend inordinate amounts of time wondering what might happen.

Unsurprisingly, when pondering the future we sometimes think about the bad things might happen. For evolution, this is a good thing as it helps us then focus on avoiding those bad things. This natural benefit has led us to worry more about the future than probably all other animals. 


There are many situations where we can naturally become fearful about the future, which we experience as anxiety, for example fears about status, uncertainty or being caught out when we lie.

Status: fear of criticism or rejection

We have a deep concern to belong, for esteem and to have a good social status. In consequence we worry about others criticizing us or otherwise thinking less of us that we might hope.

Uncertainty: Fear of the future

We all have a need to predict, which leads to a comfortable sense of control. When this is difficult we imagine bad things that may happen and so get anxious.

Lying: fear of detection

When a person tells a lie, and most of us do, surprisingly often, we worry about other people detecting the deception.


In personality theory, in particular the Big Five model, the tendency of some people to be generally more anxious that others is called neuroticism.

People who are higher in anxiety are often considered to be pessimists. Excessive neuroticism can become dysfunctional and can lead to obsessive behavior or depression. 


Anxiety is a commonly-felt form of tension, which is a (and maybe the) core principle for persuasion. When we are tense, we seek release. When we are anxious we will grasp at straws that offer an answer for our worries. Unsurprisingly, people who are more anxious have been shown to be more suggestible.

So what?

Make the other person anxious, then offer a solution that will assuage their worries.

One way of doing this is to offer them something nice then threaten to take it away. Another approach is to show them all kinds of bad things that might happen if they do not do as you say.

See also

Fear, The Brain's Urge system, Tension principle, Stress, Horney's Neurotic Needs


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