Health & Fitness

Foreboding anxiety is a mystery todate

anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder can be disabling and exists in social settings, for instance weddings or lecture halls. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn: “Is there any link between anxiety and pending misfortune? I grew up in a community that holds this belief and it has come to pass at times”

Your question is not entirely clear (to me) and for that reason, it will be necessary for me to rephrase it slightly to be able to give you an answer. The real question would seem to me to be as follows: - “Is there a link between anxiety and anticipated misfortune?” to put it slightly differently, “does one feel anxious in situations just before he is visited by a misfortune.”

To my knowledge, there are no scientific studies that support this commonly held notion and in this case, I must say that I do not know the answer to your question.

If life was that simple, then I would easily get away with the foregoing but the reality is that we must go on to dissect your question further if only to see if we can be of some help.

First of all, the word anxiety is at best unclear and at worst confusing. This situation arises from the fact that the word has different meanings in a lay and technical settings.


In lay usage, the girl waiting for her boyfriend at a restaurant for a first date becomes anxious as she anticipates his arrival. She might for example, text her sister and state that she is waiting for Tim, and is therefore in a state of anxiety.

Similarly, a wife waiting for a husband who was traveling by road from Mombasa could send a text to her pastor to ask him to pray for her husband because she has some anxiety for his safety as he travels on the busy highway. When her husband gets home, the state of anxiety goes away just as the anxiety of the waiting girl goes away upon the arrival of her boyfriend.

The same word (anxiety) when used by a mental health expert, is using it in a technical sense to mean the presence of a medical condition, called an anxiety disorder.

Used this way, an expert means to convey the message that the state of anxiety has reached clinical significance and that it is causing impairment of function. Other experts will understand exactly what the expert means.

There are, however, a number of types of anxiety disorders. The best known is generalised anxiety in which the patient does not have a specific object or situation that provokes the anxiety. Social anxiety disorder can be disabling and exists in social settings, for instance weddings or lecture halls. Specific phobias relate to a fear of things such as snakes, or specific places like heights or open or indeed closed spaces.

Going back to the woman waiting for her husband, she would be considered to be having a clinically significant disorder if, after her husband’s arrival, she continued to worry about him.

In a recent case, a woman in her mid-thirties continued to experience anxiety about her husband because she kept experiencing excessive worry of what “could” have happened on the journey. He had set off that morning from Mombasa and she worried about him having a puncture, running out of petrol, meeting animals on the road or even being hit by a bus.

In the accident scene, she saw his mangled car being towed away from the scene, and he having broken bones. These unwanted thoughts kept coming to her head even as she tried to sleep that night.

She had shortness of breath, was sweating and her heart was racing. Any small noise sounded like thunder to her. The following day the symptoms persisted. Her husband could not understand “this foolish” behaviour. He was safely at home and she was still worried.

Two weeks later, he took her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed an anxiety state. She was put on appropriate treatment and in time got better. In the course of treatment, it became clear that the past had come to haunt her. At the age of 10 years, her father had gone to Mombasa, and had died in a road accident on the way home. She was unaware of this link until the expert pointed it out.

The girl waiting for her boyfriend was fine when he arrived. Her sister was not so lucky. She had a Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which meant that she had excessive worry, severe anxiety as well as marked emotional distress, for which no reason could be found. Treatment was effective.