Anxiety can be scary and uncomfortable, so it’s no surprise that people tend to question whether these experiences are normal, or in fact more problematic. Below are basic ways of deciphering the differences.
What is the difference between normal anxious feelings and an anxiety disorder?
Normal anxious feelings – These feelings only last a short time either before, during, or after a stressful event, for example an interview, divorce, job promotion, or job loss. No significant problems with others or life in general result from these feelings. These emotions may also arise when a realistic threat to safety happens, like a fender bender.
Anxiety disorder – These feelings are occurring almost all of the time and for an extended period of time. They impair relationships with others and causes impairment in life. Some examples include staying inside excessively, not being able to drive or work, or avoiding social interaction. Usually involves thoughts of gloom or dread and racing thoughts. Physical symptoms such as increased heart beat, dizziness, shortness of breath and sweating are quite common.
A client with anxiety: a case study
During my time of working with individuals with anxiety I have found that we tend to worry about a vast number concerns. In one case, I had a woman (*fictional client) who was worried that someone was going to break into her home.
While she was away from her home she would worry that someone was stealing her belongings and while she was at home she was fearful that someone would break in and harm her. These thoughts happened constantly. She was unable to enjoy time with family and friends and was unable to focus at work. At home she didn’t feel safe because of the constant fear.
How therapy helps reduce anxiety
As we began therapy, we were able to collaboratively find her main triggers to the anxiety and ways to cope with these feelings. Our approach utilized techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy which allowed us to identify unhelpful thought patterns that were causing the fear. We then identified ways to restructure that thought pattern resulting in reduced anxiety. When she would have a thought about a robbery she was able to restructure or reframe the thought, for example “it is unlikely that my home is being robbed” or “my neighborhood watches out for one another.”
Another skill she utilized frequently was mindfulness. When she had a thought about her home, she noticed the thought but did not judge it as good or bad, instead she focused on what she was doing in the present moment. After 3 months of therapy, she felt free of this fear and was confident in utilizing these skills (as well as additional skills learned) to reduce her anxiety.
If you are still questioning these differences, or if you believe you may have an anxiety disorder, there are ways we can help! You can read more about me here. You can also contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form.
Author: Melissa Sauder, LPC
Melissa is a licensed professional counselor who loves helping women learn to empower themselves so they can lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Her therapy is spending time with her dog, a labradoodle named Sammy.