Is this normal worry, or anxiety?
Anxiety and worry. These two terms are often used interchangably, and understandably so, as almost constant worry is a large factor in anxiety. However, there are important distinctions between a normal level of worrying and anxiety. Recognizing this distinction can help you determine whether yours or a loved ones’ level of worry is a natural response to a stressful situation, or the signal that there might be a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
There are a few things that separate anxiety from simply being worried.
Anxiety isn’t always logical.
Worrying typically stems from a situation that is troubling us, and our thoughts gravitate toward that situation until we can find a solution or resolution to it. With anxiety, however, the anxious person may be fully aware that the event they are consumed with may never happen, is impossible, or will not actually be that bad if it happens, but they are still unable to stop it from intruding into their mind. Furthermore, anxiety is excessive- the problem itself might be completely valid, but the response to it feels out of proportion.
Anxiety doesn’t go away when “the problem” is solved.
It simply moves on to the next thing on the list of worries, and the anxious mind begins to turn that over. Or the anxiety switches to worry about whether or not the solution found will last, or if it was REALLY solved or just temporarily, or if someone is angry because of the way the situation was handled...and so on and so on. Physical symptoms of anxiety also tend to linger long after the problem has been addressed.
Anxiety interferes with your life.
Anxiety often prevents people from making new relationships, taking career risks, and traveling, among other things. An anxious person may strongly desire to be able to overcome their anxiety and be able to pursue new challenges and experiences, but just not be able to do so one their own. If your worries are preventing you from living the life you want, you are likely dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety is physically painful.
Being constantly tense and worried has physical effects. Your body is releasing too much cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones it produces when you are threatened in some way. This can make muscles painfully tight from being braced too long, and can take a major toll on your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. It can also make it incredibly difficult to sleep, as your body is missing the signal to “shut down” for the day, causing you to miss out on reparative sleep. You might not have any anxious thoughts at all, but still be experiencing a racing heart rate, tightness in your chest, or tense muscles.
Check back later this week for part 2 on how to cope if you’re dealing with anxiety!