When FDR famously proclaimed there is nothing to fear but fear itself, little did he know was forecasting a psychological phenomenon known anxiety sensitivity.

The term wasn’t coined until 1985, but when the concept was defined, it was kind of a big deal. I’ll stop short of calling anxiety sensitivity the mother of all anxiety disorders (which sounds like a Freudian comic book villain), but high anxiety sensitivity puts you at greater risk for developing a problem with anxiety, from panic to PTSD to phobias and beyond.

So what exactly is this fiendish phenomenon? It’s a belief that the physiological experience of anxiety itself, like a racing heart, sweating, or shaking, is dangerous and could lead to devastating outcomes. In other words, it’s the tendency to interpret anxious sensations as catastrophic—it really is fear of fear.

For example, someone with high anxiety sensitivity might fear the dizziness that comes with being anxious, thinking it means they’re going to snap and have a mental breakdown. Another might fear the pounding heart that comes from walking into a room of strangers, thinking a heart attack is around the corner. Yet another might interpret their nervous trembling as a sign that they’re losing control of their faculties.


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