Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Asma Rehman, LPC

It’s very normal to experience feeling anxious in everyday life.

Anxiety or an Anxiety DisorderBeing nervous about a big presentation at work, for example, happens to everyone and by and large is no reason to fret. Nervousness and worry happen naturally, and are different than an anxiety disorder. 

Nervousness and worry actually serve a very important function. Like all emotions, they help us learn about ourselves, our needs or our environment. Nervousness and worry can serve functions such as:

  • Motivation
  • Warning signs & systems
  • Attention to detail
  • Increased compassion

When we have a healthy amount of nervousness we tend towards thoughtfulness and preparedness. We are also alert of our surroundings and are able to recognize quicker when something is a situation which we should remove ourselves from. 

At our depression and anxiety support group in Houston, we provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals struggling with mental health challenges. Our support group offers a place to share your experiences and connect with others who understand what you are going through.

However, generalized anxiety disorder does not serve the helpful functions that everyday anxiety & nervousness do.

When anxiety transitions from the emotion to the disorder, the functions which are normally helpful and informative start to overpower our other functions. 

With an anxiety disorder the situational anxiety will start to be disproportionate to the situation itself. If you are having persistent, severe anxiety about ordering take out, for example, it is likely an expression of anxiety disorder, not a regular expression of nervousness. 

Read: Relief for Anxiety Disorder

Do You Have Normal Anxiety or a Disorder?The clear signs that anxiety has gone from an emotion to a disorder are when it is: 

  1. Intense/Severe: rather than a feeling of simple nervousness, the anxiety will feel extremely severe. That means it will feel much more intense than simple nervousness and last a much longer amount of time. 
  2. Disproportionate: like the example above, a clear distinction between anxiety and an anxiety disorder is when the feeling become disproportionate to the current situation. If the feeling of anxiety is far more intense than the intensity of the current situation, it is probably an expression of an anxiety disorder. 
  3. Ever-present: are you feeling anxious occasionally? Maybe only when there is a big event coming up or you have a big project or presentation at work? Or do you feel anxious about everything, even small things, like walking into a store you haven’t been to before? Or the way your voice sounds on the phone? When anxiety starts to be about everything, it is likely a disorder. 
  4. Uncontrollable: with strategies and coping mechanisms, we are able to deal with normal anxiety just like any other emotion. If you are unable to achieve a sense of calm through relaxation techniques or strategies, it’s probably not typical anxiety, and is more likely an anxiety disorder. 

When anxiety is more than the normal emotion, it starts to impact your daily functioning and it is important to seek anxiety treatment

Need more help with anxiety management? Grief Recovery Center in Houston, TX can help. You can reach us at (832) 413-2410 or by filling out the form on our website. Take the time to speak with one of our licensed counselors today.

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