Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorders

Everyone feels anxious from time to time, like before an exam of a big event. If you’re in a stressful time of life, such as college or wedding planning (or the middle of a pandemic) stress and anxiety can be even more common.

This is why it can be tough to tell the difference between typical anxiety and a condition like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

WHAT IS IT?

Typical anxious feelings

A temporary and expected response to a stressful situation but not an ongoing problem. This is an appropriate reaction to the situation. It doesn’t interfere with other areas of life but can actually be a good and helpful thing. Can act as a motivator to accomplish assignments or warn you about dangerous situations. Can also activate the fight, flight, or freeze response.

Can be overwhelming but is manageable and fleeting. The anxiety is appropriate to the situation, such as feeling anxious a few days before an exam but fine after.

Includes worries and questions like “What if ___?” (I fail the test or my car breaks down…) Can cause a reluctance to take risks or avoidance of certain social situations. These episodes tend to be isolated and usually pass on their own, however.

A disorder or anxiety problem

Frequent, common, and intense feelings of anxiety that can often be diagnosed as a condition. It looks different based on the disorder but generally expects other areas of life and extends far past the trigger (or without a trigger at all).

The feelings are intense and excessive and lasts long before or after a stressor or without a stressor at all. The anxiety seems like an overreaction or out of proportion to the situation. An anxiety disorder is ongoing and the feelings can last weeks or months.

Physical symptoms include (but aren’t limited to):

dizziness, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, heart-pounding, headaches, trouble breathing, and nausea. Can feel disconnected from reality.

COMMON ANXIETY DISORDERS

Generalized anxiety disorder (G.A.D.):

This describes excessive, persistent worrying that makes it hard to live your life as usual, according to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH).

Panic disorder:

This involves having repeated panic attacks without an obvious trigger.

Social anxiety:

This translates into an incredible fear of situations involving other people or where you have to perform in front of anyone. A lot of this worry centers around a fear of being judged or embarrassed, typically leading to an avoidance of social situations.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (O.C.D.):

Characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead to compulsive behaviors. Symptoms usually begin gradually and vary throughout life.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Typical anxious feelings

  • Take fears seriously and prepare as much as possible, then trust yourself and your preparations.
  • Keep a journal of past successes and helpful quotes.
  • Make a calming Spotify playlist.
  • Develop backup plans.
  • Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of sleep.

A disorder or anxiety problem

  • Reach out for support, both in friendships and professional support.
  • Consider medication and therapy.
  • Practice grounding techniques.
  • Identify possible triggers.
  • Keep a journal and make a playlist.
  • Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise.

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