When Anxiety Is More Than A Worry Synonym

Updated August 04, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

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Feelings of unease are often grouped together, and words like "worry" and "anxiety" are used interchangeably. Despite the similarity of these words, there is a major difference between everyday worry and true, uncontrollable anxiety. If you are wondering if your feelings are a cause for concern, keep the following in mind: worry is a temporary state, while anxiety is a condition.

What Is Worry?

To understand true anxiety, it is important to first talk about worry. Many people define worry in different ways, depending on how they experience the emotion. The Merriam-Webster definition of worry is, "to afflict with mental distress or agitation: to make anxious."

The problem with this definition is that it is a bit misleading. Although it describes the state of worry as a type of mental distress and uses "anxious" as a synonym for worry, worry itself is not a form of mental illness or necessarily a bad thing; in fact, worry can be useful, and can lead people to avoid potentially dangerous situations and people.

After all, everyone worries from time to time. It is a natural response to uncomfortable situations in our lives. Just about anyone you ask will be able to describe a time when they felt worried about something. They will also have an idea of when their feelings of worry resolved.

Most of our worries are short-lived. However, a more serious form of worry is often referred to as "anxiety." This is just one of the many synonyms for worry we hear. However, uncontrollable anxiety is a much different state of mind than general worry, and the two have little in common.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a term we use to describe excessive or chronic worry. When it comes to mental health, it is often used as a term for a condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. GAD is a serious condition and requires treatment from mental health professionals to control symptoms.

An individual is diagnosed with GAD when they display symptoms of uncontrollable, excessive worry for greater than six consecutive months. They will display a range of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms including the following:

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  • Feeling on edge
  • Irrational or unrealistic concerns
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Muscle pain
  • Body tension
  • Backaches
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast startle response

In some cases, anxiety is a symptom of a greater mental health concern. GAD is just one of many forms of anxiety that can affect people. Other forms of anxiety include:

Social Anxiety

In this condition, symptoms of anxiety only occur during, or when thinking about social situations. Individuals may fear what others think of them or become nervous at the thought of initiating interactions with others. Those with social anxiety find it difficult, or in some cases impossible, to leave their home or take part in daily routines like school and work. Although social anxiety is often falsely attributed to awkwardness or teenage discomfort, social anxiety can be an extremely debilitating condition, and is not relegate to nor solved by a certain age.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a severe form of anxiety. It consists of unexpected and extreme bouts of anxiety, resulting in something called a panic attacks. While the attacks typically only last a few minutes, they include severe symptoms like chest pain, pounding heart, tingling in the body, and feelings of unreality. Panic attacks can cause individuals to feel as if they are dying or going crazy. In the midst of panic attacks, people are unlikely to be able to be “talked down,” as they are experiencing a whirlwind of bodily and mental symptoms that make panic feel as real and terrifying as a near-death experience.

Specific Phobias

In some cases, anxiety only occurs during specific situations. Extreme fear responses to people, places, or things are called "phobias". Common phobias include heights, spiders, airplanes, and doctors. It is important to note that, while most of these elements make many people feel uneasy, specific phobias are only diagnosed and treated when the fear response is severe and distressing to the individual. As an example, experiencing discomfort when spiders are near, or a startle response at the sight of a spider are not symptoms of a spider phobia. Instead, a phobia of spiders would prompt feelings of terror and horror, and could prompt intense and severe responses, such as immediate flight, sobbing, or freezing in fear. Mild symptoms of fear regarding a specific person or object would qualify as a dislike of, or a fear of, but not a phobia of.

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When It Might Be More Than Your Average Worry

For people without a background in mental health, it can be a challenge to tell the difference between worry and anxiety (in any form). Periods of intense worry can easily mimic anxiety disorders. However, there are a few red flags you can look for to find out if it's time to seek professional health intervention for anxiety. These include:

You Can't Turn It Off

In most cases of typical worry, a healthy individual can notice their concern and come up with clear plans to resolve the issue, or at least speak to themselves in a comforting, reassuring way to come down from the high of intense worry. In the case of an anxiety disorder, however, the individual has minimal to no control over their feelings. If it feels like you can't turn off the endless stream of thoughts entering your brain, no matter how much or how hard you try to reason with yourself, consider speaking with your doctor about it or seeking out evaluation from a mental health professional.

It Happens No Matter What

Most of the time, normal feelings of worry are linked to a specific cause. For example, after hearing your company is downsizing, you would naturally be concerned about the future of your career. In the case of an anxiety disorder, there is often no single reason behind the worry.

Feelings of worry take over every aspect of your life. The focus of your worry can change from day to day or even multiple times throughout the day. If your thoughts seem to rapidly change from money, career, health, safety, finances, and everything else in between, it might be time to speak to a professional.

Your Concern Is Irrational

Most average worries stem from things that could happen. For example, a couple planning a beautiful outdoor wedding may worry about rainy weather pouring in on their special day. In the case of anxiety disorders, the worry is often irrational. The hint of any unusual body sensation may signal illness or death. An unexpected bill may raise intense thoughts of financial ruin.

In some cases, the fear response is extremely exaggerated, and an individual may be unable to put their finger on exactly what might go wrong. They may simply be left with vague thoughts of catastrophe. If what you fear is very unlikely to happen, but you can't escape the thought, it is likely time to reach out for help.

You Feel It In Your Body

While typical thoughts of worry can affect the body, they are usually short-lived. The night before a big presentation, you may not sleep well, or you may feel your heart beat a little faster as you walk on a plane. But, for people with anxiety disorders, physical symptoms do not go unnoticed and do not inspire only a small amount of fear.

Many patients report feeling a choking sensation, a pounding heartbeat, physical pains, and light-headedness or tightness in the chest frequently. Despite consulting with doctors, there is often no medical cause for the symptoms. If you can't shake off an uncomfortable feeling in your body, even though a doctor has given you a clean bill of health, you may want to look into mental health treatment options.

Your Health Is Being Affected

Everyday worries typically will not have much of an effect on long-term health. While there might be a brief change in your energy levels and quality of sleep, or even a slight increase in heart rate, the body generally returns to normal once the stressor resolves.

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However, anxiety disorders can wreak havoc on physical health. Unresolved mental health conditions can increase heart rate and blood pressure and disrupt sleep cycles long-term. Many studies suggest that other chronic health issues, such as gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, and poor immune function are also related to anxiety disorders.

You Predict It

While it is normal to get nervous in certain situations, individuals who deal with average amounts of worry can easily find ways to accommodate their feelings. For example, an executive may find it helpful to manage his nervousness before a major presentation by creating note cards to practice the content.

However, those with anxiety disorders—specifically social anxiety and phobias—generally only experience severe symptoms when exposed to a situation, person, or idea that makes them nervous (or when the likelihood of the encountering that thing is high).

If symptoms of anxiety are not distressing to you day-to-day, yet your entire emotional health is upended at the thought of a specific trigger, it might be wise to speak with a mental health professional who can help you determine the cause and create an effective treatment plan.

You Can't Remember Not Feeling Worried

Because most typical cases of worry do not last long, individuals can usually easily recall the last time they felt calm. However, an anxiety disorder might be suspected if feelings of unease last six months or longer. If you have a hard time remembering the last time you felt at peace or cannot imagine what it would take for you to feel better soon, it is time to reach out to a mental health professional.

You're In Fear

Most one-off cases of worry, while uncomfortable, generally do not cause intense feelings of fear. However, anxiety disorders, whether chronic forms like GAD or more erratic types like Panic Disorder, easily cause feelings of terror, hopelessness, and dread. If you find it hard to get through the day without these types of emotions, do not be afraid to reach out to your healthcare team immediately.

As you can see anxiety is not always just another word for worry. There are many differences between the two ideas. The good news is that there is help no matter which type of distress you are in. Licensed mental health professionals like those available through BetterHelp, can work with anyone, not just those diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

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Worry is an uncomfortable feeling, and although most typical cases do not last long, it is still important to make sure you are taking care of your physical and mental health when they occur. If the cause of your chronic worrying is an underlying anxiety disorder, getting help quickly is key to managing your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is the word when you worry too much?

There are many words used to describe people who worry too much. Although paranoid is a common word to use, related words include neurotic, excessive, prone to panic, panicky, manic, obsessive, hysterical, perturbed, and distressed. All of these words suggest the ongoing, excessive presence of worry, but all of them carry with them distinct and separate connotations. Neurotic, for instance, is often used to describe worry that functions as a quirky, lovable personality trait. Paranoid is more often used to describe someone who might pose a danger, or who has lost touch with reality. Obsessive might also suggest a degree of madness, rather than simple worry, as can perturbed or disturbed. Hysterical is perhaps one of the best synonyms for worrying too much, though it suggests that the worry in question is tinged with fear or horror.

Perhaps one of the most frequently (if improperly) used words to describe worrying too much is “anxiety”. Anxiety is far more than simple worry, and describes an actual mental health condition, wherein worry is a constant companion, regardless of the presence of legitimate catalysts. Anxiety and chronic stress are both considered worry synonyms; worry, after all, is the presence of intense concern. What differs, however, is the degree and root of symptoms. Worry is justified and real, while anxiety and chronic stress may be real, but not entirely justified. To be sure, though, worry, stress, and anxiety can all have a powerful, negative effect on an individual’s mental and physical health, and can have lasting impacts on someone’s ability to lead a happy, healthy life.

What do you call a person who is always suspicious?

The most common word used to describe someone who is perpetually suspicious is “paranoid,” as paranoia suggests constant suspicion even in the absence of a legitimate form of worry or a genuine reason for concern. Although paranoia has a textbook definition of feeling suspicious, it is not the only word that can be used to describe someone who is always suspicious, though there is likely to be a common thread in descriptors of ongoing suspicion; namely, the presence of some form of ill mental health.

Suspicion can be warranted in some cases; a policeman, for instance, who has made a great deal of enemies in his district might find himself feeling suspicious of a car following him, or a series of people developing a sudden interest in his whereabouts. More often, though, paranoia or suspicious feelings arise from trauma, anxiety, or other mental health issues. These issues often arise from events outside of an individual’s control. Childhood neglect and abandonment can create suspicion with regard to strangers and relationships. Physical abuse can create suspicion and paranoia regarding individuals who look like or are in some way related to the perpetrator of the abuse. Although suspicious behavior might appear to always indicate paranoia, it can also indicate reasonable (if unhealthy) coping mechanisms are at play, earning a well-deserved synonym of “in pain,” rather than “paranoid”.

What is a worrisome person?

A worrisome person is a person who causes others to worry. While a “worried person” describes a person who is prone to worrying, a worrisome person is an individual who inspires worry or concern in others or is prone to worry, themselves.  

Is worry an emotion?

Worry is considered an emotion, but is often considered an emotional without a solid, useful purpose. While other emotions nearby worry are considered useful—concern, for instance, or apprehension—worry can cause a spike of cortisol and place undue stress on the body, which leads some mental health professionals to view worry as an unnecessary and detrimental emotional experience. It is important to note that, in the realm of mental health, emotions are rarely assigned “good” and “bad” labels; all emotional experiences have their place, and all can provide the individual experiencing them with some amount of help. Sadness, for instance, can help point out unhealed wounds, and can prompt crying, a physical manifestation of sadness that actually serves a biological purpose. Anger can indicate areas of passion, unhealed wounds, or declining mental health. Worry, conversely, shows an elevated degree of concern and fear, and could lead to a spike in anxiety, without prompting a healthy biological response. Fear has a place, but worry is an ongoing experience with fear or apprehension without a clear resolution.

What do you call a person who is always nervous?

A person who is always nervous could simply be called a nervous person, or may be said to have a nervous personality. Nervous people have also been called delicate, historically; many an old novel has identified the presence of nervousness or apprehension as someone with a delicate sensibility, or prone to needing delicate treatment. Neurotic has also been used to described an individual who is constantly nervous—neurotic people were made popular and even lovable by many fictional characters, among the most prominent being characters featured in Woody Allen films (or even Woody Allen, himself). Neurotic people are typically characterized as having excitable personalities, prone to feeling unsure of themselves, being easily frightened off, or readily doubting their own thoughts, ideas, and needs.

A person who is always nervous might easily experience distress, disturb others with their seemingly unending list of concerns and fears, and may even find themselves struggling at work, at school, or in relationships as a result of their nervous attitude and behavior. A person who is always nervous could be called an anxious person, a nervous person, a neurotic person, or an awkward person, as all of these adjectives could encompass the behaviors, communication patterns, and thought patterns of someone who exhibits nervous traits.

Can anxiety cause nerve problems?

While anxiety might not initially seem to do much more than cause mental distress, increasing bodies of evidence have discovered the far-reaching and wide-ranging negative effects of anxiety, including the possibility of nerve damage. How does this happen? Anxiety is not merely a feeling; instead, anxiety is a whole-body experience that, over time, can lead to sympathetic nervous system dominance, or a state in which the body is locked into a state of fight or flight. Being locked into this state can cause a great deal of breakdown in bodily functions, ranging from gastrointestinal distress, to chronic headaches, to the constantly firing nerves, leading to feelings of nerve damage, even if the nerves are not actually damage. This occurs because nerves might fire without actual, physical stimulus, and create feelings like prickling, burning, numbness, or tingling, which are all symptoms of nerve damage.

Happily, because anxiety is not actually at the root of most nerve damage, the unpleasant symptoms associated with nerves and anxiety are typically resolved as anxiety is resolved. While nerve damage is costly and potentially impossible to treat when it comes from diabetes and other physical conditions, the nerve pain and discomfort associated with anxiety is typically not considered a long-term malady, and clears up in conjunction with anxiety clearing up.

How do you describe a nervous person?

There are varying degrees of nervous energy, some mild and some extreme. A person who is only mildly nervous might appear fidgety, restless, and loud, seeming to be both eager to have attention on them, and terrified at the prospect of being the center of attention. Nervous people often have a tic of some kind. In an individual who is not extremely nervous, the tic may be small, such as rubbing one’s hands together at the onset of social interactions, or almost habitually scratching one’s elbow during confrontations.

Someone whose nervousness is more pronounced could be shaky and neurotic, with an easily-triggered startle response. Extremely nervous people might blush frequently, struggle to maintain tight control of their day to day life, and buckle under pressure at work, at school, or in relationships. Nervous people might also have higher voices than relaxed individuals, with a strangled quality to their speech, almost as though even the act of speaking prompts a nervous response and a flood of fear.

How do you describe anxiety?

Anxiety is described differently by those who are experiencing it and individuals who craft the official literature on the subject. Clinical descriptions of anxiety typically focus on the symptoms associated with the condition, such as bodily changes (high heart rate, high respiration rates, and shaking), mood changes (constant feelings of impending doom, irrational fears, and irritability), and an inability to quiet fears, worries, or concerns. These are all easily-understood descriptors of anxiety, and can help laymen and mental health professionals alike identify anxiety symptoms. The language used to describe anxiety by those who are actually experiencing anxiety typically differs.

People who are actually in the midst of anxiety often describe the condition with more emotional terms, and a more vivid sense of fear or despair. People describe anxiety as a choking feeling, a heaviness in the chest, and a gradual creeping-up of fear in the neck, spine, or scalp. Anxiety might also be described as debilitating, making even the simplest of tasks difficult, such as ordering a cup of coffee from a local coffee shop. Stepping into new situations might feel not merely uncomfortable, but impossible, every decision a person makes governed by a sense of terror, uncertainty, and inadequacy.

Whether it is being described in a clinical setting or being identified by someone locked in the mire of anxiety, anxiety is a powerful condition, and can wreak absolute havoc on virtually every single aspect of a person’s life. From social anxiety to general anxiety to obsessive compulsive behavior, anxiety has a profound impact on a person’s ability to function and carry out daily tasks, including self-care, finance management, and work completion.

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