If you experience anxiety, you feel threatened, but you are uncertain by what or how1. For example, when you are anxious about falling ill, when you enter an unfamiliar place and it seems ‘creepy’, or when you have a bad feeling about your financial future. The threat is unknown or abstract. Evolutionary, there is an explanation why this emotion exists next to fear, which is a reaction to a concrete threat2. Fear comes with the urge to run away, but if you don’t know what or where the threat is, where are you going to run to? You may even be running towards the threat. Instead, anxiety gives you the urge to scan the environment for clues about the threat with your senses wide-open. Our brains are subconsciously processing vast amounts of information, most of which does not enter the conscious part. However, when the brain detects that something is ‘off’, it can give a trigger for anxiety. For example, prey animals detect when birds in the environment suddenly go silent, as it might mean a predator is approaching. However, as long as they don’t have more information whether that is true, and if so, where the threat is coming from, there is no point in running. Similarly, soldiers moving into an unfamiliar area may sense that something is ‘fishy’. This is based on their previous experiences. The experience of ‘feeling’ that something is wrong, but not knowing where this information comes from, can sometimes give it a magical or superstitious quality. Most people have at least experienced this in childhood, when darkness would elicit anxiety and images of creepy or magical things that weren’t there.
The unclear cause of anxiety is also one of the problems for people who experience it too often or too much of it. Because unlike fear, it does not have a clear cause, it can be difficult to treat anxiety issues3.
In the comic, a worried-looking colleague pops into Murphy’s to tell that the boss is making an important announcement. Murphy and his colleagues don’t know what the announcement may be, but the signs are not good. Anxiously, they walk to the other room.