How Do I Know if My Anxiety is Normal?

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When does everyday anxiety cross the line into an anxiety disorder?

Feelings of stress or pressure are normal when you’re approaching a big job interview, have a big test to take or have to deliver unpleasant news, but anxiety disorder is much more intense and disruptive to your life. 

If you have an anxiety disorder, it likely gets in the way of your everyday activities, including going to work, going to school, or spending time with family and friends. When we start worrying about things that really don’t need to be worried about, then it becomes an anxiety disorder.

To understand the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder, consider these real-life examples:

1. I’m worried about taking a test next week.

Anxiety: I’m nervous because the test is important and I want to do well. So, I start studying early.

Anxiety disorder: I’m so worried about the upcoming test that I stop attending my other classes. I can’t sleep well or eat well and I’m irritable. I even stop interacting with my family.

2. My friends are going out to a popular dance venue and want me to come along.

Anxiety: The idea makes me uncomfortable because I don’t know all of the people well, and I’m self-conscious about my dancing. I go anyway to be with my friends.

Anxiety disorder: I cannot go out with people I don’t know well, especially in a crowded place. Even if I don’t dance, they will think I’m awkward and judge me for being a social failure. 

3. I have to give a big presentation for work this morning.

Anxiety: I’m sweating and feel a little light-headed from nervousness, but I take some deep breaths and try to calm myself.

Anxiety disorder: I have a panic attack and have to leave the building and go home because I can’t face talking in front of the group.

4. I have to drive downtown for an event.

Anxiety: There are so many cars and people moving around that I feel nervous about driving in crowded conditions. I study my GPS directions beforehand and stay focused on my driving.

Anxiety disorder: I don’t go downtown. There is too much chaos and it’s dangerous. And I wouldn’t trust a random Uber driver or taxi driver to get me there safely.

When we start worrying about things that really don’t need to be worried about, then it becomes an anxiety disorder..

5. Our family dog was killed by a car four weeks ago.

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Anxiety: I was so upset that I didn’t sleep well for a few nights. I cried a lot for the first week. I’m still sad, but I’m going to work every day and enjoying other parts of my life.

Anxiety disorder: Even now, I’m having nightmares about my dog being hit. I didn’t see it, but the image of his still little body has paralyzed me. I’m afraid to leave the house, and I don’t want to be with anybody.

6. I have a safety routine before I leave the house each day.

Anxiety: With all the reports of burglary in our city, I make sure all of my doors are locked, I pull the shades and I set the house alarm before I go out.

Anxiety disorder: I check and recheck all of the door locks upstairs and downstairs each time I go out. I check every window to make sure it’s locked and pull down the shades. Then, I do a second check in case I missed one. I set the house alarm. When I get into my car, I stop and go back into the house just to make sure I have secured everything. I do this every time I leave my house.

Anxiety disorder is highly treatable, but many people with the disorder don’t seek professional help. Learn more about medicines for anxiety disorder and other treatments.

Small Steps: Be the Change
Help your child learn healthy stress-proofing habits by living them yourself. Eat right, exercise and communicate positively and openly.

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