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Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder Or Normal Anxiety?

Anxiety is spreading like a plague throughout the nation. It affects children, teens, adults, and the elderly. No one is completely immune from the effects of anxiety. But you might be wondering: what is the difference between having normal anxiety that every person will feel at some time in their life, and suffering from an anxiety disorder?

So what is the biggest difference? Normal anxiety is usually an appropriate response to a situation where most people would feel anxious. An anxiety disorder is generalized to everything, not just things that cause a normal person anxiety.

Knowing whether you have anxiety cannot be answered in just one simple statement. Each person is unique, so their anxiety will look different. However there are some similarities between people with an anxiety disorder and those who simply feel anxious periodically. Here are some of the five common signs that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder.

1. Your Response To Uncomfortable Situations Is Extreme

It is normal to feel anxious when a colleague reminds you that you are assigned to give a presentation (that you have not prepared for) just moments before the meeting is about to begin. Anyone would feel worried that they will embarrass themselves, disappoint their boss or team, or get bad performance reviews because they are unprepared. But someone with anxiety doesn’t have an appropriate response to stressful situations. Even a simple stress might cause them to feel extreme anxiety. They might have put on two mismatching socks in the morning by accident, and instead of laughing it off or feeling mildly embarrassed, a person with an anxiety disorder might begin to sweat, feel as though they are going to vomit, or obsess throughout the day that they may be fired for their unprofessional appearance. They might even begin to be paranoid and worry that everyone is staring at them. Their response to a mild problem causes them extreme physical anxiety.

When you are thinking about your own personal anxiety, you should ask yourself if you are feeling a response that is appropriate for the stressor. Ask yourself, what would a normal person feel in this situation on a scale from 1-10? If the normal person might feel only a 3 and you are feeling a 9, then you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

2. You Obsess About Things That Are Unimportant Or Beyond Your Control

Another common sign of anxiety is that you obsess about things that may not be worth obsessing about, or something beyond your control. Consider this example: you go out to lunch with friends. You have a great conversation and everyone seems to have a good time. However, after the lunch is over you start to replay the conversation in your mind. You begin to worry that something you said was misunderstood because one individual made a confused face. You start to wonder if that person was offended, and you begin to worry that others at the table were offended as well. You think about the conversation over and over until you can’t remember exactly what was said, but you are now convinced that the other people misunderstood. In your mind you might even escalate to the point where you feel the need to write a long email explaining what you meant. Or you decide that you won’t go out to lunch with these friends again because you are worried that you might say something wrong again and you don’t want to lose their friendship.

Does any of this sound familiar? Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders find themselves obsessing over things they cannot control, or things that are of no importance to others. Someone who has normal anxiety might only feel concerned if the conversation was obviously contentious, or overtly offensive. Otherwise, they would look at the lunch as a pleasant time, and probably not give it another thought. If you obsess about things that are unimportant or that are imagined, you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

3. You Feel Concerned or Worried Even After The Stressor Has Passed

Another sign that you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder is that you continue to feel stress and discomfort even after the stressor has passed and the situation has been resolved. Perhaps you were driving on the highway and forgot to check your blind spot. As you got ready to switch lanes you almost hit the car behind you and they honked rudely at you. Not only did you feel embarrassed about this mistake, you were worried about your safety and the safety of others in the car with you. There was no crash, the other car passed and you were able to safely merge, but the racing heart and anxious thoughts did not pass. In fact, you might even continue to think about the incident that evening when you are trying to go to sleep. You may replay the experience over and over in your mind. You might try to remember if you noticed the other car and what you were thinking? You may start to imagine different scenarios and how it could have turned out. Instead of just remembering a near crash of the two cars, you now have imagined a fatal crash. You imagine yourself looking at the passengers in the car with gruesome injuries knowing it was your fault. You might even begin to get emotional about the possibility of something happening to a loved one. You could even go farther to imagine your life without the loved one who passed away in the fatal crash that you caused and so forth. You become so emotional about this imagined outcome of the earlier events that you vow that you won’t drive again. The next day you avoid driving the car, cancel your plans or ask someone else to drive you because you are too worried to get back behind the wheel.

Do you see the pattern of anxiety? Going down a rabbit hole and becoming emotional, anxious and upset about an isolated incident early in the day is not a symptom of just normal anxiety. This is more indicative of an anxiety disorder. Of course you should practice safety while driving. Naturally, almost causing a crash would make your heart race and make you vow to be more perceptive in the future. That would be a normal response. Obsessing about the possibility of what could have happened is not normal and may be a sign you have an anxiety disorder.

4. You Feel Abnormally Agitated

Feeling agitated is a common complaint of people with an anxiety disorder. In fact, many children and teens are suffering from an anxiety disorder but their parents or caretakers don’t notice because the main symptom is agitation. You might just think the child or teen is a grumpy or highly emotional individual. You may even tell them to calm down, stop crying so much, or to get over it, not realizing that the underlying cause is actually an anxiety disorder. Many people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, adults included, become agitated to sounds, touch, smells, and/or bright lights. As an adult you might feel frustrated that someone is touching you, that the music is too loud, or notice that you get frequent headaches. When you are suffering from an anxiety disorder your senses may be heightened. This is especially true when you are feeling anxious or having a panic attack. For this reason, the person may feel constantly bugged, annoyed, or unfriendly because they are in a constant state of frustration and agitation. If you find that you, your child, teenager, or a loved one is generally angry or agitated, it may be worth exploring other symptoms to determine if an anxiety disorder is the underlying cause.

5. You Are Unable To Live A “Normal” Life

One of the main questions you should ask yourself is if your anxiety is causing you to live your life differently. Is it holding you back from the things you really want to do? Has it affected your relationships, your job, or your ability to be happy? If the answer is yes, you are probably suffering from an anxiety disorder. For example, someone with an anxiety disorder may not be able to board a plane even though they know they will lose their job if they don’t get on the plane. For someone with a normal response to a stressor, they can work through the discomfort because the reward at the end is important enough that they push through. Someone with an anxiety disorder may sincerely not be able to push through the discomfort even if they want to and even though they know they should.

If you find yourself missing social events or lying to friends because you are feeling anxious, you may have an anxiety disorder. If you have changed jobs multiple times or are unable to hold a job because of feelings of worry, discomfort or agitation, you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

I think I have an anxiety disorder, what is the nest step?

If after reading this article you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, there is hope. Anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Many people have felt healing and relief from doing a couple of simple things. First of all, you should equip yourself with the proper techniques to combat your anxiety. The Anxiety Healing Program is an affordable at-home program that gives you the same benefit of attending cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, without the cost or time commitment. People who use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques find that they are better able to deal with their anxiety and live the life they want.

Another suggestion is to meet with your doctor. If, after trying to implement tools such as those found in the Anxiety Healing Program, you find that you still feel intense feelings of anxiety, you may want to discuss other options such as medication or more advanced treatment. Because anxiety is so treatable there is no reason that you should suffer. With proper counseling and medication you can find the relief you need.

I don’t think I have an anxiety disorder, but I do still want help dealing with anxious thoughts, what is my next step?

Even if you do not have a full-blown anxiety disorder there is no reason that you can’t learn healthy coping tools for your feelings. The Anxiety Healing Program is something that is helpful for any individual regardless of whether or not you have an actual disorder.

You may also find that your anxiety gets better or worse with certain situations. When you go through a traumatic experience or a stressful situation, you are likely to feel anxiety. Does this mean that you have an anxiety disorder? Not necessarily. Some people develop a disorder after the trauma, but many people who use the proper coping tools can pull out without having lasting effects of anxiety. The important thing is to combat the feelings as they come. Accept that you are feeling anxious, and then help train your mind to deal with these emotions.

The tools presented in this article are based on Cognitive Behavioral Techniques and have been effective for many people in combating anxiety. However, this is in no way a replacement for medical treatment. If at any time you feel that you are unable to safely control your anxiety you should reach out to a mental health or medical professional to talk about the next steps for your safety.