What Is Considered Normal Stress and Worry, and What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

You have an interview next week and are worried sick you’re going to say the wrong thing and miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. A heated quarrel breaks out with a close friend and you’re anxious that the angry words hurled at each other might have damaged the relationship irreparably. You have a couple of tight deadlines and your stress levels are at an all-time high. And you start thinking that maybe, just maybe, you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, right? No, not really. Chances are you’re perfectly fine.

You see, anxiety is the body’s automatic response to stress. When you’re stressed about something, you feel anxious and you begin to worry…and that’s totally fine. However, while it is perfectly normal to be worried, once it begins to escalate into extreme and intense bouts of nervousness and anxiety, then it could be a sign you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a mental health illness and is usually classified into 6 broad types:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety, and
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

How can you tell if you’re experiencing normal stress and worry or an anxiety disorder? Simply ask yourself the following questions.

Motivating or Debilitating?

Most times, when you’re stressed and anxious about something, your body and mind immediately push you to confront the obstacles in your path. You want to excel in that exam, ace that job interview, or complete that crucial task at work. So you find yourself preparing, planning, aiming to be the best candidate the interview panel ever saw. An anxiety disorder more often than not inflicts debilitating, rather than motivating, symptoms. So if you’re terrified by feelings of fear and inadequacy and unable to do anything productive towards achieving your goals, it’s possible you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder.

When you find yourself in a dangerous situation, anxiety is the reason your body tenses for action (to fight or run for your life). It’s like your own personal alarm system. But If rather than fighting or escaping, you freeze, shut down or experience a panic attack? Anxiety disorder, definitely.

Why Are You Anxious?

When you feel anxious, can you pinpoint the exact cause of your stress or worry? Is it an approaching test in school, an argument with a loved one, or some bad news from home? If you can confidently state the exact reason why you’re anxious, then you’re probably experiencing normal stress and worry. Knowing what’s causing your anxiety also goes a long way in helping you deal with it. However, if you suddenly feel anxious and can neither determine nor explain why you feel that way, then you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Is Your Reason Realistic?

It’s one thing to have a reason to be anxious and another for said reason to be realistic. Being anxious because of events or situations that are likely to never occur is a symptom of an anxiety disorder. You’re one of the top 3 highly-performing staff in your office but you’re worried of getting fired, or it might be that you’re scared of your partner leaving you even though you know quite well that he (or she) truly loves you. Likely these reasons are not realistic. There is a huge chance they’ll never happen, and you’re needlessly getting worked up.

Is Your Anxiety Proportionate?

In other words, how proportional is the stress to your reaction? Your reason might be realistic but is your response proportional to the situation?  If you find yourself obsessively worrying about something quite inconsequential or trivial in the grand scheme of things, then you just might have an anxiety disorder. People with OCD can be quite fixated on things being done in the right order or the specific placement and positioning of objects, such as the proper way for the paper clips to be stored.

Long-term or Not?

Anxiety is a transitory feeling, or at least it’s supposed to be. Anxiety springing from normal stress and worry is usually short–term and disappears once the situation in question has been satisfactorily resolved. Long and intense spells of helplessness and fretfulness is a sure sign of an anxiety disorder. Sleepless nights and continuous bouts of nausea months after a terrible ordeal? Anxiety disorder.

Does It Incapacitate You?

This is probably the most crucial question of all. If your anxiety over a situation prevents you from doing what you need to do and impacts negatively on your life, then you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. You should be able to manage your anxiety and not let it affect your education, career, and relationships. Once you’re unable to do so and it begins to overwhelm you, then it’s more than just normal anxiety. If you find yourself regularly avoiding social events or people, skipping classes, getting to work late, shunning busy areas or certain places, then you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder.

It’s tough most times to tell the difference between normal stress and worry and an anxiety disorder. But asking yourself these questions can help. If you notice yourself or a loved one exhibiting the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, seek professional help. There are a number of evidence-based treatments available that can help with anxiety.

Contact New Connections Counseling Center for help.





Speak Your Mind


600 Wyndhurst Ave. Ste 307A
Baltimore, MD 21210


Got Questions?
Send a Message!