What is Normal Anxiety Compared to an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety may be natural, but that it can always develop into something worse. Here we explore the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder.

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Anxiety is a very natural feeling our brain’s produce to warn us of life-threatening situations. However, when someone develops an anxiety disorder, symptoms can spiral out of control to the point where it impairs their day-to-day functioning.

If someone is experiencing anxiety for the first time, it may be difficult for them to identify whether their feelings are normal or part of a progressing condition. There are a number of key factors that separate intermittent (or “normal”) anxiety from an anxiety disorder.

Throughout this article, we’re going to explore those factors. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Is Anxiety Beneficial?

As mentioned, anxiety is a natural response our brain and body experiences when a threat is made present. More specifically, it’s an autonomic nervous system response that tends to produce a number of immediate symptoms. ¹

While symptoms will vary from person-to-person, some of the most common include: ²

  • Chest tightness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness (feeling on edge)
  • Sweating

It’s almost inevitable each of us will experience anxiety at one time or another within our lives. Most commonly, we start to feel a sense of danger when we’re doing something for the first time (i.e. first date, first time away from home, etc.).

However, there are a number of other common events that can cause us to become nervous. Some of these events include:

  • Becoming a parent
  • Coping with an illness
  • Getting a new job
  • Getting divorced
  • Getting married
  • Taking an exam

Beyond these life events, anxiety may also appear at random moments within your life. For example, if you’re walking through a dark and vacant parking lot by yourself, you may feel a heightened sense of alertness.

For these reasons, anxiety can be beneficial. The more aware we are of our surroundings, the safer we’re allowing ourselves to be. In many regards, anxiety is a very primitive instinctual characteristic we all carry and its mere purpose is to keep us alive.

When Does Anxiety Become a Problem?

However, just because everyone feels anxiety naturally doesn’t mean it can’t become an issue. In fact, nearly 1/5th of the country struggles with a type of anxiety disorder.

An anxiety disorder is when someone experiences the above mentioned symptoms on a consistent basis. So much so that it begins to inhibit their day-to-day functioning, causing problems with various responsibilities (such as work, school, or relationships).

Problem anxiety tends to reveal symptoms that normal anxiety may not show. Some of these include:

  • Behavioral changes (i.e. avoidance behavior)
  • Concentration problems
  • Distorted thoughts
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Memory problems
  • Excessive worry
  • Upset stomach

It’s estimated that 19.1% of U.S. adults have struggled with an anxiety disorder within the last year. These conditions are experienced at higher rates among women (23.4%) than for men (14.3%). ³

The Key Differences Between Normal Anxiety and Problem Anxiety

Simply put, problem anxiety happens chronically. It can appear in both persistent physical and mental symptoms. It also can interfere with a person’s daily life causing problems.

Normal anxiety is intermittent. It doesn’t usually reveal physical symptoms (besides minor ones such as sweating and muscle tension). Most importantly, it goes away once a certain event or situation is no longer present.

Anxiety is a very natural response for us to experience when we’re in a life-threatening (or supposed life-threatening) situation. However, if symptoms are persistent, then you’re likely struggling with a type of anxiety disorder.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your anxiety is persistent, it’s important to seek out professional help as soon as possible. In fact, the sooner you catch anxiety, the better chance you have at treating it.

Since women are more likely to develop the condition than men, some experts are suggested women and girls aged 13 and older are screened regularly for an anxiety disorder. ⁴ While this may seem a bit ridiculous to some, it could save people from years of stress.

Not to mention, if anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to a number of physical health conditions, such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease
  • Stomach issues

A mental health professional will place you on the right treatment option in order to identify symptoms and develop ways to reduce them. This usually involves psychotherapies and medication.

We do warn that some anxiety medication is extremely addictive and, if taken improperly, can lead to problems worse than anxiety itself. For that reason, if you’re worried about pharmaceuticals, we invite you to read our article concerning herbal alternatives for anxiety.

Final Word

Coping with anxiety isn’t easy. However, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. Nearly 20% of the United States is also struggling with this condition and there are treatment options available.

As more people openly discuss their anxiety, there’s more research being done on the condition. With that, there’s a better understanding among professionals about what needs to be done in order to properly treat this condition.

Your Questions

Still have questions about what intermittent anxiety is?

We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ National Library of Medicine (PubMed): The role of the sympathetic nervous system in anxiety: Is it possible to relieve anxiety with endoscopic sympathetic block?

² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Anxiety Disorders

³ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Any Anxiety Disorder

⁴ Annals of Internal Medicine: Screening for Anxiety in Adolescent and Adult Women: A Recommendation From the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative

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