Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion that everyone experiences.
It’s your body and mind’s way of reacting to certain situations—whether it’s getting ready for an interview or having a difficult conversation with someone you care about. The discomfort anxiety brings in these situations is considered normal and even beneficial.
For example, anxiety about an upcoming test may cause you to work harder in preparing for the exam. The anxiety you feel when walking through a dark and deserted parking lot to your car will cause you to be alert and cautious of your surroundings.
While it’s pretty clear to see that some anxiety is normal and even beneficial, anxiety can become problematic when it inhibits our ability to function normally in everyday life.
Anxiety disorders and anxiety can be two separate things.
It’s important to know the difference between the two and when you might need help coping. In this blog post, I’ll talk about what each looks like and how they’re different from one another.
Normal anxiety is intermittent and is expected based on certain events or situations. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, tends to be chronic, irrational and interferes with many life functions. Avoidance behavior, excessive worry, and concentration and memory problems may all stem from an anxiety disorder. These symptoms may be so intense that they cause family, work, and social difficulties.
Anxiety disorders are more serious than normal anxiety.
The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can cause significant impairment in your life, while the symptoms of normal anxiety don’t typically disrupt daily activities or relationships with others.
Physical sensations (such as heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, etc.), distorted ideas that develop into a source of excessive anxiety, and avoidance behaviors that influence how you live your life and interact with others are all symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are sometimes overlooked because their symptoms mimic those of other mental health conditions or medical issues that may be caused by a physical illness. It’s important to work with a healthcare professional when you are experiencing these symptoms so they can rule out other causes and offer treatment.
You might think that having some degree of fear is natural and everyone experiences it from time to time; however, even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, you may still find that your anxiety is impacting your life negatively.
When experiencing normal anxiety:
- You might feel nervous and tense before the situation that’s causing your anxiety occurs.
- After the situation has passed, you might feel relieved and happy that it’s over.
- You’re able to continue with your day-to-day activities without any problems.
Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are long-term conditions that can cause a great deal of distress. The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can last for months or even years, and they can be very intense and interfere with your life in many ways.
When experiencing an anxiety disorder:
- Anxiety might build up without you even realizing it at first. You might find yourself avoiding people or situations that make you nervous to the point where your ability to function is impaired—from going out with friends to going to work.
- The anxiety might not go away after the situation is over, and in fact, it might get worse. This can lead to problems sleeping, concentrating, or completing tasks, as well as physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and headaches.
Other symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- excessive worry and rumination about things that might go wrong
- feelings of panic, terror, and dread
- avoidance of anything that triggers anxiety symptoms
Anxiety disorders are serious mental health conditions that should not be taken lightly. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional to get help.
If you’re not sure whether or not your anxiety is ‘normal’ or an anxiety disorder, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does my anxiety interfere with my day-to-day life and relationships with others?
- Does my anxiety cause physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or headaches?
- Do I avoid certain situations because they make me nervous to the point where it’s hard for me to function (at home, work, or socially)?
If you’re still unsure about whether or not your anxiety is ‘normal’ or an anxiety disorder, speak with a mental health professional for more clarity. They can help you figure out what might be causing your symptoms and what they might mean.