Curvilinear Model of Anxiety


The Curvilinear Model of Anxiety, which is described in Kanel’s 2011 book “A Guide to Crisis Intervention” suggests that anxiety has both positive and negative attributes depending on the situation and the individual. You may be familiar with the concept of eustress, which is a form of positive stress (American Institute of Stress, n.d.) based on our interpretation of that event. Examples include writing a test that we are confident we will perform well on, or kissing a partner for the first time.

This relates to the Curvilinear Model of Anxiety in that an appropriate amount of anxiety can be very helpful for one’s ability to change, which is especially important in the field of crisis intervention.

If we have an extremely high stress or anxiety level we will feel overwhelmed, and unable to accomplish anything. On the other hand, if our stress level is extremely low, we will experience no motivation or desire to change, which is equally problematic.

Example of the Curvilinear Model of Anxiety

Someone who is abusing substances for instance, may find themselves $100,000 in debt and facing a physical assault by someone who owes them money. In the middle of this crisis, they are likely unable to make good (or any) long-term decisions about their life until this crisis has been dealt with.

On the other hand, if that same person has $100,000 and is in the middle of their drug use, they are also unlikely to change either. The idea that someone has to hit ‘rock bottom’ is common in 12 Step Programs such as AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), because without this they are not motivated to change themselves.

Role of Medication

In cases where an individual has an overwhelming level of anxiety or even experiences panic attacks or other physical symptoms, medication might be necessary in order to restore an immediate level of functioning. Drugs that end in -pam such as lorazepam, diazepam or clonazepam fall into the hypnotic-sedative/benzodiazepine category and may be used as a PRN (“take as needed”) or as a once-daily medication.


Kanel, K. (2011) A Guide to Crisis Intervention, 4th ed. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.

“What is stress?” n.d., American Institute of Stress. Accessed electronically on Jun 2 2016 from

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Curvilinear Model of Anxiety," retrieved on December 9, 2022 from

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