In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And time will have his fancy,
Tomorrow or today...

-- W.H. Auden

Carl Jung described anxiety as "the difference between now and then." We humans, burdened with our little anticipation machines called brains, are forever in a semi-anxious state, attempting to predict the future and never quite getting it right. Normal human anxiety is simply the dynamic psychological process of being vigilant and yet uncertain about consequences. In its most positive form, we know it as "excitement."

The anxiety that tends to bring people to therapy tilts more towards fear, which can be considered a state of intense readiness to respond to an immediate, observed threat in the environment. Our blood-pressure and heart-rate go up. Physiological processes concerned with more long-term needs, such as the immune system and digestion, are inhibited. Blood flows to major muscle groups in preparation for flight or fight. Fear is a transitory state, and these effects go away once the threat is removed. However, when we are anxious -- pathologically anxious -- we experience these effects for extended periods of time. In a sense, anxiety involves treating the uncertain future as an immediate, definite threat. Something bad will happen for sure, we just don't know quite what, or when, or how.

Therapy is in large part a process of arriving at a consensus of reality. As such, it can help modify stubborn pessimistic ideas that produce anxiety and distorted, fearful predictions about the future. Intense anxiety often arises out of
unresolved traumas, overwhelming experiences that endanger our sense of predictability and invulnerability. This is especially true about traumatically stressful experiences that occur in early childhood, when we are less capable of
making verbal sense of the bad things that happen to us. In such cases, we tend to relive the trauma in thoughts, feelings, and behavior, rather than remember them in a meaningful manner. An onslaught of seemingly irrelevant negative emotions, such as fear and anger, can produce a general sense of anxiety that belongs more to the past than the future. Therapy as a creative, collaborative, respectful recreation of memory can help place intrusive experiences in a meaningful context.