Having Anxiety vs. Feeling Anxious: What’s the Difference?

Anxiety is a normal response to stress, and isn’t always a bad thing. But when it gets to be uncontrollable or excessive to the point where it affects quality of life, this may be indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Knowing the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder can help you talk with your doctor about your symptoms and any concerns you might be having.

Read on to find out more about the difference between “regular” anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorder vs. feeling anxious

You might wonder what the difference is between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder, especially if you find yourself feeling anxious a lot.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder can look a lot like “regular” anxiety at first. But it’s characterized by unrealistic or excessive worry about everything — even things you might not even be able to name. It also lasts at least 6 months and can get in the way of daily functioning.

GAD has symptoms like:

Typical anxiety is a response to stress, and this is normal. When the stressor is over, the anxiety usually goes away. In anxiety disorders, removing the stressor or trigger doesn’t always reduce the anxiety.

Anxiety caused by stress doesn’t generally significantly impair one’s life or cause distress. If your anxiety is disrupting your quality of life, it might be time to re-evaluate whether it may be an anxiety disorder.

How to tell the difference

Anxiety or being anxious isn’t always a bad thing. You can think of it almost as a spectrum or continuum of sorts. Sometimes it can help us prepare for things or help keep us alert in dangerous situations. It’s also a normal reaction to stress. But anxiety disorders aren’t a typical reaction to stress.

In general, two things need to be present that define an anxiety disorder, as opposed to simply being anxious:

  • the anxiety is out of proportion to the situation or isn’t age appropriate
  • it impairs the ability to function normally

Another common findingTrusted Source across anxiety disorders is out-of-the-ordinary and excessive anticipatory responding in the face of uncertainty.

We all face uncertainty in our lives. But someone with an anxiety disorder may anticipate the uncertainty and potential outcomes in a way that isn’t proportionate to the actual event.

An anxiety disorder is different from “normal” anxiety.

“Abnormal” anxiety is defined by excessive and persistent worries that don’t go away, even when there’s nothing to be stressed or nervous about. With an anxiety disorder, people usually try to avoid triggering situations or things that worsen their symptoms.

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