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Am I Just Worried, Or Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Are you anxious about your worrying? Sure, you’ve got worries. Life is stressful, there’s a lot at stake in our daily lives, and sometimes things go wrong. Worry is part of being human. But do you worry too much? How much is too much? Where is the line between healthy worry and an unhealthy anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder?

Not Anxiety? What is Healthy Worry Like?

Yes, worry can indeed be healthy. A mild to moderate level of stress helps us stay alert and perform our best at something important to us. When we’re concerned about doing well on a project at work, for example, we make sure we work hard to do our best.
A healthy level of worry has certain characteristics.

  • Worry is limited in scope, confined to specific situations.
  • Ordinary worry is relatively short-lived. To be sure, worry pops up frequently, but there are breaks, respite, between periods of worry.
  • When someone worries, he or she might experience self-doubt about a situation, but it stays there and is more about the outcome of the situation rather than about him or her as a person.
  • Characteristics of Unhealthy Anxiety

  • With anxiety, worry is excessive. Thoughts of the negative consequences become unrealistic (“If I don’t perform well on this project, my boss might be upset and ask me to redo it” versus “If I don’t do well, I’ll be humiliated and fired and I won’t ever be able to get another job because my boss won’t give me a reference and I won’t be able to pay my bills and…”)
  • In an anxiety disorder, worry is pervasive. It affects all or nearly all aspects of one’s life. It is unrelenting and follows us everywhere, even to bed, keeping us up at night.
  • An anxiety disorder commonly involves harsh, negative self-talk. It’s not just about the situation (“This test is stressing me out”). It’s about the person him or herself. (“This project will be a disaster because I’m not good enough to do it right. I’m too incompetent.”)
  • Anxiety disorders are toxic and paralyzing. They involve physical and emotional symptoms that can be harmful.

You might be nervous that this doesn’t fully capture what you’re experiencing.What differentiates an anxiety disorder from ordinary worry?

It can be hard to tell whether we are “just” worrying or if we actually have an anxiety disorder. If you’d like to explore it further, you might consider taking a brief anxiety test as a starting point. You can use what you learn to decide if you should talk to a doctor, and you can take the test results with you to open the discussion. Don’t worry. Even if you have an anxiety disorder, there’s help and anxiety disorder treatment available.

You can also connect with Tanya J. Peterson on her website, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest.

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Am I Just Worried, Or Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder?”

  1. As diagnostic criteria in clinical psychiatry for anxiety serves the index of global life functioning. If it is very low that compromise daily deed, then the anxiety should be treated by mental health care service. Your observation that worried can be positive one is exactly, because without this emotional perturbation, we would be exposed to many dangerous moments. To avoid eventually common life mistakes, we ought to be carefully, that underline some feeling of concern and worried as well. But chronic and longstanding uneasiness that damages the sleep in quantity and quality may be object of psychiatric observation and evaluation. Therefore, it ought to report each somatic and physiologic disturb to your family doctor, whose professional deed is to consult with any clinical psychiatrist. Otherwise, we risk to hurt from any depressive disorder, as serious psychosomatic disease. Indeed, psychiatric entities are close to many somatic illnesses, because humane being are complex bio-psycho-social creatures.

    1. Thank you for your wise insight, Dr. Ferati. Worry itself does serve a protective function, but when it is excessive and it affects other life aspects, one should discuss it with his/her doctor. I appreciate the concept that we are bio-psycho-social creatures. Our physiology, our emotional/intellectual functioning, and the nature of our social systems all impact our physical and emotional health and well-being. The GAF scale is very helpful in assessing the whole person rather than solely the visible symptoms. The doctor-patient alliance is important.

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