Is It Anxiety or Anxiety Disorder?

As an anxiety recovery coach, this is one of my frequently asked questions. People want to know if the symptoms of anxiety they are experiencing put them in the anxiety disorder category or in the “ordinary” anxiety category.

ANXIETY PICSIf you are wondering what the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder is, here are my thoughts about the subject matter:

The term “anxiety” in this context is often used to refer to the “ normal level” of anxiety that every human experience on exposure of anxiety-inducing situations. In other words, it is the natural anxious feeling that we all face when something threatening or potentially dangerous happens to us. Everyday challenges involving some potential loss, failures or heartbreak can easily drag us into this normal anxiety zone.

Therefore, anxiety can be defined as the body’s natural defense mechanism against potentially threatening situations, thoughts or behaviors. The key characteristic of anxiety here is that it is temporary. It does not last for long. Additionally, it does not evolve into other anxiety outlets such as phobias.
You can easily bring this type of anxiety to control by relaxation, deep breathing techniques, positive self-talk or by simply identifying and challenging the self limiting beliefs that cause the anxiety in the first place.

Concerning anxiety disorder, there are three factor that differentiates it from the “normal” level of anxiety I discussed above:

The intensity of the anxiety symptoms.
The longevity of the anxiety symptoms
The interference of the anxiety symptoms.

  1. The intensity of the anxiety symptoms.  The symptoms of anxiety disorder are more intense than the everyday, normal anxiety. These symptoms can take a form of panic attacks where you’ll experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, a feeling of choking, dizziness, a feeling of unreality, numbness, fears of losing control or going crazy etc. You will know you have anxiety disorder if the intensity of your symptoms is a lot severe than what we can call a “normal” level of everyday anxiety.
  2. The longevity of the anxiety symptoms. The second difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder is the longevity of your symptoms. If your anxiety lasts longer than a few minutes after the stressful situation that seems to have caused it is over, then it is no longer normal anxiety, but anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder can persist for months. It is also possible for it lie dormant for a while after which it comes out fully blown again upon a trigger.
  3. The interference of the anxiety symptoms. This is perhaps the biggest clue that anxiety disorder is present. If the symptoms of your anxiety begins to interfere with your day-to-day life, then it is definitely a disorder. Interference happens when anxiety disorders begin to generate other outlets which are now resisting you from full self-expression, socializing, or from carrying out your day to day responsibilities.

Other outlets of anxiety disorders can involve generalized or specified phobias, obsessive compulsive behaviour, eating disorder, compulsive intrusive thoughts, inner critical voice, panic attacks. With these outlets of anxiety disorder, a more specialised psycho-therapeutic work may be necessary to fully get rid of the root-causes. Coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises and distraction techniques may not be sufficient to totally rid you of your anxiety disorder.

Hopefully, this article has clarified a few things for you.

Best regards
Wale
P.S. You can find out more about how to tackle your anxiety disorder from the source by downloading my free eBook entitled, The Essential Guide To Anxiety Recovery.

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