Everybody experiences anxiety. Whether it’s your first day of school, presenting a speech, getting married – the list could go on and on. Anxiety isn’t always a negative feeling. It’s actually beneficial to feel anxious in some cases. As an example, you’re feeling anxious about getting an assignment done on time. That anxiety can motivate you to finish that assignment on time. Maybe you’re anxious about walking to your car at night. Again, it’s beneficial because it makes you become more aware of your surroundings. Anxiety is an important feeling because it can keep us safe. The problem is when that feeling starts to take over your everyday life. When your anxiety exceeds what it should be for the situation, that’s when your anxiety could be a disorder. Knowing the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety disorder can help you to decide if you should seek treatment.

Normal Anxiety

Normal anxiety happens when there is a specific event that’s making you feel anxious. Like I said before, this feeling is actually a good thing and can protect you. You can expect to feel anxiety based on certain events. It usually lasts for a shorter amount of time and doesn’t interfere with your life too seriously. Even though this isn’t a disorder, it’s still important to have coping methods. If you’re not able to effectively cope with your anxiety, it could turn into something more.

Anxiety Disorder

When you start to feel excessive worry that interferes with your life, it’s probably a disorder. When you have an anxiety disorder, it’s difficult to control, and it might feel irrational. You feel symptoms including difficulty concentrating, indecisiveness, restlessness, and fear. This is a chronic condition and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Read my full list of symptoms in my post Recognizing the Symptoms of Anxiety if you think you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Before we get into the different types of anxiety, I’ll tell you a quick personal story of a time when I could clearly see the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety disorders. For one of my college classes, everyone had to present a short project. I never look forward to presenting in front of a class, but this was only meant to last a few minutes. It seemed like everyone in that class had the mindset of “I want to go first to get it over with.” I wanted to go last. I wanted to put it off for as long as I could. When it finally came time for me to present my project, I took a deep breath and walked to the front. As I read from my paper, I was shaking so much that I had to set it on the table next to me in order to even be able to read it. The presentation that was only meant to last a few minutes lasted one minute at most. The anxiety didn’t go away when it was over. It lasted for days. Multiple days feeling anxious over one minute of my life. I still hate thinking about it.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This is a very common type of anxiety disorder and is characterized by excessive worry during your everyday life. This feeling isn’t attached to one specific thing, hence the term “generalized.” You’ll probably have feelings of dread throughout the day and constant intrusive thoughts.
  • Panic Disorder – If you struggle with panic disorder, you’ll experience an intense and sudden attack of fear, commonly known as a panic attack. During a panic attack, you typically feel symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. These can include sweating, chest pains, light-headedness, nausea, chills, and difficulty breathing.  
  • Phobia – A phobia is a strong fear of a specific object or situation. You’ve probably heard of a lot of different phobias, such as claustrophobia, acrophobia, or arachnophobia. A lot of these words get thrown around like nothing, but they are real anxiety disorders and should be treated as such.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – This can also be considered a phobia. Social anxiety disorder consists of the fear of being watched, judged, or rejected. You can experience a lot of anxiety from any type of social situation.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – When you struggle with OCD, you experience recurring and unwanted thoughts or ideas that lead to repetitive behaviors. If these behaviors aren’t completed, it can be extremely anxiety-inducing. These obsessions are distracting and can interfere with daily life.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This disorder develops after experiencing a terrifying or traumatic event. Feelings of fear and anxiety can last for months or years following the trauma, and might get worse as time goes on. Your brain remains on high alert, even if you’re no longer in danger. It’s important to seek treatment for PTSD because it can have a serious impact on the brain.

As you read through the different types of anxiety disorders, you might feel like you can relate to multiple. It is possible to suffer from more than one anxiety disorder. It’s important to talk to a professional so that you can find the right coping methods and treatment options for the anxiety that you deal with.

Overall

Whether you feel normal anxiety or suffer from an anxiety disorder, find ways to cope with it. As you can see in my story, other people’s ways of coping consisted of just getting it out of the way. For me, it wasn’t so easy, and when I think back on it, I wish that I had a better way of coping with that. Anxiety can be overwhelming and exhausting. It can also lead to depression. It can take a while, but finding something that helps you deal with your anxiety is so worth it. Whether it be meditation, journaling, therapy or medication, take care of your mental health!

For mental health help, visit https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help or text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 support.

The Difference Between Normal Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder