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.
- 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.
Characteristics of Unhealthy Anxiety
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.