The term anxiety has made its way into the mainstream the past few years which is both good and bad. Good because anytime people are talking about mental health issues they are creating awareness and drawing attention to an important issue. Bad because many people don’t really know what anxiety is and the seriousness of it can be downplayed. Since anxiety diagnoses have become a bit of an epidemic, it seems that some people are not taking the diagnosis seriously. I have unfortunately heard people, educated people, comment that anxiety disorders aren’t real and “everyone has anxiety.” While this attitude is sad, it shows that we (those of us in the mental health field) need to do a better job of educating people about what anxiety really is.
So what is anxiety? It is an intense and irrational fear that is often brought on without cause. If there is a specific cause, the response is out of proportion to what the actual threat it. It is excessive worry, meaning that it greatly upsetting to the individual and it interferes with daily life. Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms. They may be subtle (jaw or fist clenching) or more noticeable (racing heart, trouble breathing). It can result in a panic attack, or sense of impending doom accompanied by several physical symptoms. Anxiety is different for everyone, but it is an awful feeling that can be absolutely debilitating. I had one client describe her anxiety as feeling like the victim in a horror movie. You know the killer has entered the house and it is just a matter of time before he finds you.
What is the difference between anxiety and anxiousness? Anxiousness or nervousness, I use the terms interchangeably, is a feeling that everyone experiences at some point or another. It can be uncomfortable, but it is brought on when we are faced with a challenge. We might feel anxious before a performance, when we have a lot on our plate, or when we have a big decision to make. Physical symptoms are often present with nervousness, but they are not debilitating. Once we have overcome whatever it is that is making us nervous, the feeling fades. Anxiety can also be confused with fear, uncertainty and doubt. Again, these are emotions that everyone experiences and like anxiousness, are related to a particular stressor.
There are several mental health disorders that are considered to be anxiety disorders, but that is a post for another time. What I hope you may take form this post is that there is a difference between being anxious and having anxiety and that we can spread the word that anxiety is an illness and not something that everyone experiences.