How To Tell If Your Anxious Feelings Are Actually An Anxiety Disorder

Photo: by Pham Khoai from Pexels
Do I Have Anxiety? How To Tell The Difference Between Feeling Anxious & Anxiety Symptoms
Self, Health And Wellness

Feeling occasional worry is normal, and can even be healthy, depending on your situation. But if you're constantly suffering from anxious feelings or anxiety, it might not be just "worry" — it could be generalized anxiety disorder disrupting your life.

The symptoms of anxiety are unique for every person who experiences them, but when you're having an anxiety attack, you might not realize just how debilitating it can be. So what's the difference between depression and anxiety versus normal, healthy anxiousness?

RELATED: I Was Diagnosed With Anxiety Five Times Before I Took It Seriously

Anxious feelings happen. They’re supposed to happen. They're normal.

When your pulse races and your muscles tense, anxiety is doing what it should: Getting you ready to meet a challenge or to step up to the plate.

Totally normal.

But what about an anxiety disorder?

According to the latest statistics, 40 million people suffer intense, debilitating, often unreasonable, desire to fight or flee on a daily basis.

How much anxiety is too much?

How much fear, worry, and alarm keep you safe? And how much puts you in danger of missing out on the best possible version of your life? It’s very important to know the difference.

To be sure what you’re managing are anxious thoughts, rather than something more chronic, use the following indicators as a guide. Then, consider talking to a counselor to be sure anxiety is the helpful measure of vigilance it’s supposed to be, and not getting in your way.

Here are 5 major differences between just feeling anxious and having an actual anxiety disorder:

1. How well you can manage the stress

Normal anxiety is a response to real danger or stress. You’ll experience anxiety when you argue with your partner or take a new job. Your response to stress will be an appropriate emotional response that says, “Get ready.”

Anxiety disorders find life, in general, to be stressful. Anxiety will not fade or let up. Individual stressors are often indistinguishable and revolving. Anxiety is almost constant.

Seemingly harmless tasks and interactions are enough to make life exhausting, or impossible.

2. How long each stress response lasts

Anxious feelings come and go. The flood of cortisol and adrenaline in your system is short-lived. Meant only for those fight or flight interludes, the stress response in your body fades as the danger passes. Calmer feelings resume.

Anxiety disorders also produce a flood of stress hormones and emotional responses — except the flood doesn’t end. Reactions to stressors are prolonged and overblown.

Fear and worry may begin weeks before a perceived stressor, like a family event or job interview, and linger for weeks afterward.

RELATED: What It Feels Like To Have Anxiety And Depression At The Same Time

3. The severity of your physical reaction

Typical anxious feelings may be accompanied by sensations that signal a tense situation, like tensed muscles, a queasy stomach, or dry mouth.

The physical manifestations of an anxiety disorder are much more serious. Dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, racing pulse, headaches, and nausea may be regular occurrences.

If these symptoms and the anxiety disorder go unaddressed for too long, long-term health problems can occur or be exacerbated.

4. The degree of psychological disturbance

Anxious feelings can sharpen focus temporarily, set you on edge, and direct your thinking toward the stressor. For a while, you're motivated and experience a surge of momentum and energy.

Anxious feelings may be uncomfortable, even unpleasant, but not altogether unwelcome. They help you get things done.

People with anxiety disorders often feel emotionally and cognitively upset. Some report feeling a level of detachment, or disconnected from reality, or their own bodies. They feel as if their minds or emotions are scrambled.

Concentration is disrupted. Racing thoughts, mind chatter and negative thoughts tend to ramp up everyday worries and reduce logical thinking.

5. The level of associated impairment

Anxious feelings are not handicaps. They are a normal part of life. They’re manageable and motivational with the right coping tools.

Conversely, anxiety disorders affect the way you live, and how you relate to other people. School, career, love, and everyday life are disrupted. Ineffective coping mechanisms, like avoidance or aggression, hinder productivity and life satisfaction, further exacerbating anxiety.

Do not hesitate to seek help. Anxiety disorders are best addressed with the help of a trusted and experienced therapist. You don’t have to live in a fighting stance or poised for escape. Anxiety disorders can be treated successfully in a relatively short period of time, and without medication.

RELATED: 5 Signs You're Secretly Struggling With High-Functioning Anxiety (And What You Can Do To Manage It)

Subscribe to YourTango's newsletter to keep up with us for FREE

- Our best articles delivered straight to your inbox
- The latest in entertainment and news
- Daily horoscopes and love advice

Linda K. Laffey is a marriage and family therapist with a passion for helping others. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website here.

This article was originally published at Linda K. Laffey. Reprinted with permission from the author.