anxiety as a paraside

Anxiety Symptoms as a Parasite

Every living thing wants to survive and reproduce. So does anxiety. Anxiety can be thought of as a parasite that finds an area of vulnerability and burrows in. Like every parasite, anxiety’s survival comes at the expense of the host. Typically, you'll notice anxiety symptoms in connection with some area of insecurity, perhaps your health, your relationships, your finances, or your work.

Anxiety about Anxiety

Anxiety often starts a particular domain—health, work, relationships—but then blossoms into anxiety about anxiety. Now, clients are fighting a much more an invisible enemy that exists only in the mind. They want to know “When is this damn anxiety going away?” Fear of anxiety and anxiety symptoms then becomes the primary force driving further development of these disorders.

Anxiety is your Friend

How is anxiety your friend? If you have an exam, anxiety correctly senses the threat of failure and motivates you to study. In fact, with no anxiety, you might never amount to anything, because you would never be motivated to move forward in life. Anxiety is needed to effectively address problems in life.


Since anxiety is treated as a foreign body, it becomes possible to react to your anxiety and to react to yourself for "having" anxiety. "I hate my anxiety" is one such strong reaction. You may also disparage yourself for having anxiety. Self-judgments can be harsh, particularly when you hold yourself responsible for, and blame yourself, for all the opportunities you've missed out on because of avoidance. These entanglements serve to bind you to anxiety and further prevent your recovery.

Low Self-Efficacy and Low Self Esteem

Low self-esteem often accompanies anxiety issues. To what should you attach your self-esteem? According to Epictetus, not to externals, that is, not to body, property, reputation, office, or anything else which is beyond our control. Attaching your self-esteem to the opinions of others leaves you vulnerable. Such opinions may be completely inaccurate, or worse, they may mix up the truth with falsehoods so completely that the two become impossible to disentangle. Similarly, do not attach your self-esteem to how others treat you. Their treatment depends on their beliefs, their mood, the events of their day, and may have no foundation in any truth about you.

Need for Control and Certainty

When you have anxiety, control becomes very important. If you feel out of control, your sense of threat quickly escalates, and you may do whatever’s necessary to win back control. Cognitively, you may obsessively monitor possible sources of threat, imagine what could go wrong, and develop plans for every possible contingency. Emotionally, you may react by trying to avoid or escape, pushing people away or pulling them close, crying, yelling, walling out others.

Attentional Narrowing

Attentional narrowing is a natural consequence of anxiety, because anxiety is about threat, and threat requires a response, and not just any response, but the best response. Think of your attention as your radar system. Once the threat is detected by your radar, your radar homes in on the threat. You begin paying very close attention, assessing the threat and monitoring it for new developments. As your attention narrows, you can’t think about anything but the threats. They absorb your total attention.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement sustains anxiety. “Negative” means that an aversive stimulus is removed. “Reinforcement” means that the frequency of behavior increases. That's what happens with avoidance. Avoiding relieves anxiety. At least in the short run, avoidance seems to work: Put maximum distance between you and anxiety situation that seems to cause the symptoms. But what happens next time you encounter the same situation? Your anxiety is worse, because you never stuck around long enough to realize that the feared situation is actually safe. Now, you're even more motivated to escape, a vicious circle of worsening anxiety.

Classical Conditioning and Anxiety

Classical conditioning explains how anxiety grows in breadth. When two objects or events are paired, to some extent your emotional response to one object or event rubs off on the other. If you have a panic attack in a particular grocery store, you may begin to fear all grocery stores, then all stores, then being outside the house altogether. That's called response generalization.