Worry is a feeling that we are all familiar with. So many of us have experienced a racing heart and a mind filled with endless thoughts. Whether it’s an upcoming exam, presentation or a big event coming up, anxiousness and worried feelings are a natural response that we feel in stressful situations.
There are times, however, when these feelings can get misinterpreted as something they are not. Many individuals interchangeably use the words “anxiety” and “worry” as if they are the same, when in reality they are two completely different words and emotions.
In the U.S., anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness. There are several types of anxiety disorders including: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias and social anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common and affects 3.1% of the population in the U.S., according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
When we use the word “anxiety” interchangeably with words such as worried, stressed and overwhelmed, it diminishes the struggle of a mental illness that about 40 million American adults are affected by, according to the ADAA.
Some individuals tend to use the term in the wrong context, almost as if it is a personality trait. “That gives me so much anxiety,” is a phrase people often say. If you find yourself using this phrase, stop and ask yourself, “does this particular experience give me anxiety, or does it just cause me to worry?”
It is important to understand that everyone experiences worry, but that does not mean that everyone struggles with an anxiety disorder. A good way to think of the two feelings is that “stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to stress,” as shown on the the ADAA website. When we compare the two feelings of anxiety and worry we can see that there are similarities, but there are also major differences.
When we feel worried there is most often a reason that we can point out that is causing this feeling to come about. Once we find an answer to the problem that is causing us to worry, the feeling leaves our body and mind, because worry is temporary.
Anxiety is not a temporary feeling or emotion. Anxiety is more than that; it sticks with us and lingers. When the outside issue is resolved, the feeling of anxiety that is within us stays. Other times there is no outside issue, the anxious feelings come about suddenly, and we can’t point out a reason why. Individuals who are affected by anxiety disorders can not just simply “stop worrying” or “move on” from the ongoing anxious feeling that is within them.
Many people believe that anxiety is “just stress.” However, those who struggle with anxiety often experience physical symptoms as well. A few physical effects of anxiety include: fatigue, shakiness, headache, nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, increased heart rate and panic attacks.
By using these terms incorrectly and labeling feelings as something they are not, we are minimizing the effects anxiety disorders and making it seem as if the feelings and struggles of the mental illness are not a big deal. This might make it hard for those who are affected by anxiety disorders to reach out and seek help. Yes, it is true that we all worry and feel anxious from time to time, but for some people those are not just temporary feelings.
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Julianna is a senior majoring in journalism and sociology. She enjoys writing and reporting on topics related to mental and physical health and wellness.