Are You Worried, Or Is It Anxiety?

Updated March 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Part of being human is feeling anxious, worried, or scared occasionally. However, if those feelings linger and worsen over time, leaving you feeling as if the world will come crashing down on you at any second, you may have a mental health condition related to anxiety. Read on to learn how to tell the difference between regular worry and anxiety, recognize the symptoms, and the various ways therapy can help you learn to manage the effects of an anxiety disorder.

Do You Have An Anxiety Disorder?

What Is Anxiety?

According to the mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, anxiety is the cognitive processes your body and brain utilize in response to danger, hardship, fear, and worry. Anxiety typically causes tension, worried or fearful thoughts, and physical changes like a racing heartbeat. While anxiety is a regular human emotion, it is meant to be a temporary experience to ensure you’re aware of potential dangers. Those feelings should fade when the risk passes, but for people with anxiety disorders, they stick around and often get worse with time. 

When Does Anxiety Become A Disorder

Nerves, feelings of anxiety, and worry are expected—as is their temporary nature. If your anxiety symptoms don’t go away, lingering to cause functional impairment and substantial distress, you may have an anxiety disorder. According to a recent study, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. When the emotion works as it should, it serves as your body’s early warning system and a powerful motivating tool. The adrenaline rush of anxiety can help inspire you to act when in danger or push you to work harder to complete an important project on time. 

Speak to your healthcare provider to ask about an anxiety disorder assessment if your feelings of worry or anxiety involve persistent, intrusive concerns, cause you to avoid certain situations, people, or places, or you experience physical reactions such as a racing pulse, dizziness, shaking, or sweating in a tense situation.

“Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.”— National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

What Does Anxiety Look Like? Signs And Symptoms

Behavioral—Significant changes to your sleep patterns, shifts in your eating habits, or active avoidance of places, people, or situations that may cause anxiety 

Physical—Stomachache, increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, headache, unexplained pain, muscle tension, hyperventilation, or other breathing problems 

Psychological—Intense sense of impending doom or persistent danger, mood swings, trouble controlling worry, stress, difficulty making decisions and concentrating, disorientation, “brain fog” or your mind going blank, and lingering feelings of nervousness 

What Causes Anxiety?

Science has not determined a definitive cause for anxiety. Instead, the medical community believes a complex interaction of multiple biological and environmental factors causes anxiety disorders. Genetics, developmental experiences, variations in brain chemistry, personal history, and your body’s response to danger can all contribute to whether you develop an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

You may persistently feel worried, fearful, or anxious about many things in your life. Symptoms of this disorder often interfere with multiple areas of your day-to-day life, such as work, school, or relationships. 

Panic Disorder

Sudden, overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety that occur without warning and sometimes without apparent cause. Panic attacks typically last several minutes, severely impact your functional ability, and cause intense anxiety about future episodes. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

You likely experience painful shyness to the point that you have trouble functioning in social situations. Anxieties with this disorder typically focus on rejection, ridicule, or judgment in social or performance situations. 

Phobia-Related Disorder

Phobias are extreme feelings of fear and aversion to specific objects or situations, such as heights or enclosed spaces, that cause intense reactions when encountering the feared subject. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Humans develop emotional attachments to the people we care for deeply. Some people experience extreme distress, worry, and fear when separated from their attachment figures. You may have separation-themed nightmares and immensely dislike being alone. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Persistent anxiety symptoms and stress reactions months or even years after a traumatic event. Many people with PTSD experience nightmares, flashbacks, and unexpected triggers related to their trauma, often causing extreme adverse reactions and significant emotional distress. 

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders

While it may seem as simple as looking up the symptoms of anxiety disorders and seeing which ones fit your situation, diagnosing mental health disorders requires the assistance of a physician, therapist, or another healthcare provider. If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, speak to your doctor or therapist to ask about an evaluation. 

The process will start with a medical history and possible physical exam to rule out any potential underlying medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will likely use a series of assessment tools to identify your symptoms and their severity. After receiving a diagnosis of a specific anxiety disorder, they will likely refer you to a specialist or begin developing a comprehensive treatment plan to reduce your symptoms. 

Treatments For Anxiety Disorders

Recent studies show that most treatment plans for anxiety disorders involve medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Many mental healthcare providers use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help patients recognize harmful thought patterns and behaviors, shifting them to more effective options with the support and guidance of a professional. CBT also teaches practical coping and communication skills. 

Coping Skills To Manage Symptoms

  • Keep a journal to track your anxiety triggers, emotional reactions, and which coping skills helped you through the situation. 

  • Establish practical morning and bedtime routines to stay productive and relaxed.

  • Prioritize your mental health.

  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help you learn discipline and focus. 

  • Reframe your perspective and focus on positive thinking.

  • Build an array of coping skills that evolve with you.

    Do You Have An Anxiety Disorder?

What Does Anxiety Look Like In Children And Teens?

Anxiety in children and adolescents often presents differently than it does in adults. Young children cannot usually identify and understand their emotions, so physical symptoms like frequent stomachaches and headaches are common. Teenagers experiencing anxiety may demonstrate more behavioral symptoms, such as social isolation, a drop in school performance, changes in sleep or eating patterns, moodiness, and a tendency to be confrontational. 

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Anxiety

If medication isn’t a good fit for your situation or you’re looking for ways to manage your symptoms in addition to traditional treatments, researchers at the University of Minnesota suggest lifestyle changes to help you control anxiety. Remember that the stronger your body is, the better it works. Your physical health can significantly impact your neurochemistry. Ensure you eat a balanced diet, get plenty of regular physical activity, and maintain healthy sleep hygiene. Avoid alcohol and substance use, use positive affirmations to reassure yourself in tense situations, and practice a mindful lifestyle. 

Anxiety Statistics

  • The most common mental health condition among adults in the US is anxiety.

  • Nearly 30% of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. 

  • Women are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. 

The American Psychiatric Association

How Therapy Can Help You Manage Your Anxiety

If you’re experiencing trouble managing your anxiety symptoms and it interferes with your ability to function in multiple areas of your life, consider speaking to a licensed therapist online through BetterHelp, a virtual therapy platform. If you are seeking help for your child, TeenCounseling provides treatment for children from 12 to 19. Therapy can help you identify thought patterns and behaviors that may be negatively impacting your life, helping you shift them toward healthier habits. A therapist can also help you develop communication and practical coping skills to manage your stress and anxiety.

The most common treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, and recent studies show that online CBT can be as effective as face-to-face treatment. 


Worry and fear are standard parts of life, but if yours lingers and gets worse over time, you may have an anxiety disorder. The information presented in this article may help you understand how persistent anxiety can affect you and how therapy can help manage symptoms and their effects. 

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