What is Anxiety Sensitivity?

Post 2020, many of us have experienced anxiety or higher amounts of anxiety. In fact, anxiety disorders in adults have increased by 25% worldwide. One condition that many experience is anxiety sensitivity.

Anxiety sensitivity is an often overlooked and challenging aspect of anxiety. Anxiety sensitivity is experienced internally,  involving bodily sensations. It is related to anxiety, but the physiological responses to anxiety sensitivity often cannot be escaped through a change of environment or other common coping methods.

In this post, we discuss anxiety sensitivity, define what it is, and how to cope with it when it happens.

Anxiety Sensitivity

Anxiety sensitivity hasn’t always been called what it is. The term “anxiety sensitivity” was officially identified in the 1980s and refers to experiencing physiological symptoms that may have negative and dangerous physical, cognitive, or social consequences related to anxiety

For example, someone experiencing anxiety may have a racing heart. If this person has anxiety sensitivity, they may be fearful that the racing heart could result in a heart attack or stroke. A cognitive example is if someone has anxiety, they may start hyperventilating and fear embarrassing themselves in a social setting. Or, if someone has racing thoughts with their anxiety, they may be afraid of experiencing insanity.

Someone experiencing anxiety sensitivity is fearful that the bodily sensations stemming from their anxiety are dangerous in some way. Anxiety sensitivity leads someone to take benign anxiety-induced bodily sensations as highly threatening or dangerous despite no danger being present.

Anxiety sensitivity intensifies anxious feelings, magnifying the fear of the fear itself. This is a risk factor for the onset of other anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks and panic disorders.

Causes of Anxiety Sensitivity

You may be asking where anxiety sensitivity comes from. Unfortunately, the exact cause still remains a mystery. Some studies show that anxiety sensitivity in adults may be related to how their parents reacted to anxiety symptoms during childhood. This would mean that a heightened fear of anxiety-related physical responses may be a learned behavior reinforced over time.

While there is no definitive answer to the exact cause of anxiety sensitivity, there are some areas to consider on a case-by-case basis. Genetic predisposition, early childhood experiences, parental modeling and reinforcement, and stressful life events often provide clues to what triggered the onset of anxiety sensitivity.

Challenges for People with Anxiety Sensitivity

If you or someone close to you experiences anxiety sensitivity, you may notice the unique ways it presents in daily life and your or the person’s well-being. A heightened fear of symptoms associated with anxiety can trigger even more intense anxiety and worry that may be disruptive to everyday life. For example, normal bodily sensations like sweating or a racing heart may initiate a panic attack or severe anxiety that may not happen outside of those initial physical symptoms. Hypersensitivity to normal physical sensations may lead to a perpetual cycle of anxiety.

Each consequence of anxiety sensitivity leads to another challenge, such as avoiding situations or activities that may have a possibility of causing anxiety. Through learned associations, people with anxiety sensitivity often go to great lengths to avoid social interactions or other events. This can significantly limit their opportunities for social interaction, personal growth, and fulfillment. Another significant challenge of anxiety sensitivity is the increased risk of other mental health issues like panic disorders, phobias, depression, and other anxiety disorders.

Coping with Anxiety Sensitivity

There are a few different ways to cope if you are experiencing anxiety sensitivity. Psychotherapy can potentially produce positive results, as well as psychoeducation. Learning about the disorder can not only help you but also help your support system understand anxiety sensitivity and how to alleviate symptoms.

Another coping strategy is therapy focused on restructuring how you think about bodily symptoms and how they affect you. Other therapeutic approaches include exposure therapy and, in some cases, medication.

Love Heal Grow

Anxiety sensitivity can be challenging to cope with and can have negative consequences on how you live your daily life. Seeking help from a licensed professional is a great way to cope with anxiety sensitivity. Love Heal Grow Therapy group in Sacramento, California, offers local in-person and online therapy throughout California.

We have a skilled team of caring therapists equipped to provide a secure, supportive space to navigate your mental health challenges, including anxiety sensitivity and other anxiety-related issues. We use evidence-based therapy techniques, providing services, including individual therapy, couples counseling, and family therapy. We want to assist you on your mental health journey!

You can start your healing journey today. Contact us to schedule an appointment.


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