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What Is Trait Anxiety?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Trait anxiety describes a personality disorder marked by a tendency to view a situation as more dangerous than it is. People who suffer trait anxiety might react to stimuli with excessive fear and a feeling of doom, despite the unrealistic likelihood of a catastrophic outcome. This long-term anxiety disorder might lead to panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental conditions, including depression.

People with trait anxiety interpret daily events in a threatening way, which keeps them on guard against perceived disaster. This condition often triggers a physiological response, causing the releases of adrenaline to enable a person to fight or flee. During this state, blood pressure rises and the heart rate increases. Breathing also speeds up, and blood rushes to the large muscles to prepare for flight. This primitive defense mechanism creates an alert state to deal with a dangerous event.

Normally, the nervous system reverts back to a calm state when the risk disappears. People diagnosed with trait anxiety commonly remain hyper-aroused as adrenaline levels remain high. Some people become overly sensitive to the physical changes, which might produce paranoia and neuroticism linked to panic attacks.

When a person exhibiting anxiety becomes fearful, he or she might believe a heart attack is imminent. He or she may develop health phobias linked to the physical reaction to anxiety. Some people with this disorder become convinced that others notice their physical symptoms, leading to social phobia. Studies found a connection between anxiety sensitivity and several anxiety disorders in patients diagnosed with trait anxiety.

Research also found trait anxiety blocks a person's ability to tolerate uncertainty. He or she may be predisposed to react with fear to situations that others deal with through problem solving. For example, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder typically believe something bad will happen if they do not repeat certain behaviors.

Genetics and environmental factors both might play a part in the condition. One study on twins found a significant connection between abuse as a child and trait anxiety disorders. Genetics may be linked to brain chemical dysfunction in overly anxious people and the development of certain personality traits, the study found, but environment also influences the disorder.

People suffering from trait anxiety commonly feel on edge, have trouble sleeping, and experience fatigue. They commonly exhibit an elevated startle response to sudden movements and loud noises. Muscle tension and frequent urination define other symptoms associated with this personality disorder.

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Discussion Comments

By fify — On Apr 17, 2011

If trait anxiety causes people to be fearful and alert, what happens if they do face a disaster?

I think if they had an accident or experienced a natural disaster, their condition would worsen. I wonder if this disorder leads to posttraumatic stress disorder after war or a hurricane. It does sound similar to symptoms that war veterans experience.

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