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What’s the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder?

In order to understand the difference between the two, I wanted to understand first what anxiety means. And I want to emphasize first: Anxiety is absolutely normal and part of our nature. It actually has a purpose of alerting and protecting us.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an internal alarm to make us aware of possible danger or other threats around us. The feeling can be noticed through thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. This kicking in prepares our body to be ready for the 'fight, flight, or freeze' mode to get away from danger. Physical signs can be a faster heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity.

It is quite common to feel anxious while dealing with stressful events like job interviews, tests or maybe changes in life. In our modern society, anxiety commonly evolves about school/ work, job / finances, family and health.

But what if one feels these sensations constantly or intensely though there is no identifiable danger around?

Another note in advance: This blog is for information purpose only. Do not use it for self-diagnosis purposes. Do not disregard, avoid, or delay obtaining medical or health-related advice from your health-care professional because of something you may have read on this site.

What is Anxiety Disorder?

People with anxiety disorders feel worry and fear constantly, and these feelings of distress can severely impact their daily lives. Living with an anxiety disorder can feel crippling, but with time and proper treatment, many people can manage their anxiety and live a fulfilling life.*1

When the symptoms become overwhelming, unmanageable and come unexpectedly, anxiety becomes a problem.

In comparison:

normal anxiety

experiencing anxiety disorder

  • related to specific situation/ problem

  • last about as long as situation/ problem

  • proportional to intensity of situation/ problem

  • ​may come unexpectedly, for seemingly no reason

  • may last a lot longer than situation/ problem

  • may have stronger reaction to situation/ problem

  • may feel impossible to control or manage

  • in response, person may avoid situations/ problems believing to trigger anxiety symptoms

Many people with anxiety disorders understand that their thoughts are irrational, but they still can’t stop them*2

Anxiety can be classified into different categories:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Most common type causing people to experiencing excessive or unrealistic fears, paranoia or tension. These feelings may not have a specific trigger.

  • Phobia disorder: People may feel intense fear of an object or situation, such as spiders or elevators.

  • Panic disorder: Person may experience the sudden or random feeling of terror, leading to panic attacks.

  • Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia): People may feel unsafe or self-conscious in social saturations. These can be regular every day situations, but they may cause the feeling by the idea of being judged, embarrassed, etc.

  • Separation anxiety disorder (SAD): When separating from a specific person or place, people with SAD may experience a high level of anxiety and possibly panic attacks.

Some categories may have similar symptoms or even co-exist.

But I want to remind, that regular Anxiety during everyday life is normal and necessary to stay alert. Here a 20min summary of the difference between Normal Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder by Dr Ramani:

To differentiate between common anxiety symptoms and an anxiety disorder, ask yourself:*1

  • Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?

  • Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?

  • Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things don’t happen a certain way?

  • Do you avoid everyday situations or activities that cause you anxiety?

  • Do you experience sudden or unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?

Getting Help

When the feeling on anxiety interferes with your everyday life and you regularly feel intense symptoms, don't hesitate to check in with your mental health care provider.

Depending on the type of Anxiety a combination of treatments are possible. These may include Relaxation Therapy, Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Psychotherapy, and/or Medication.

If you are not ready to see someone in person yet, there are other possibilities like texting, chatting online or speaking to a professional over the phone. Here are some helplines that can help: Panic and Anxiety Community Support

Did this article help? Was it informative for you? Let me know your thoughts and/or feedback in the comments below.

Have a great day! Be You! Be Happy!


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