Anxiety Disorders — What Is Normal?

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 22,621
    Psychologist Douglas Mennin, PhD, discusses stress and anxiety and when to become concerned that you might have an anxiety disorder. What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, worried, or even anxious. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress, a feeling of apprehension or fear. You can feel anxious without having an anxiety disorder. And if you’re facing real danger or a realistic fear, you’re not usually considered to be in a state of anxiety.

    Dr. Douglas Mennin: I'm Dr. Douglas Mennin, a psychologist and a professional member of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Today we are going to discuss stress and anxiety, and now I want to talk about when to become concerned that you might have an anxiety disorder.

    Everyone experiences stress at some time. Stress is a response to a threat in a particular situation. Everyone also has anxiety. It's a normal response to a perceived threat or danger or to situations of uncertainty, trouble, or feeling unprepared.

    Anxiety is hardwired into our brains, a biological reaction that keeps us from harm's away and prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger.

    So what is the difference between stress and anxiety? Well, stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, worried, or even anxious. What is stressful for one person may not be to another.

    Now, anxiety is a reaction to that stress, a feeling of apprehension or fear. You may not know this virtue of uneasiness, which can add to the stress you feel.

    Here are some normal responses to anxiety: worrying about paying bills, landing a job, or a romantic breakup or other important life events, or feeling self-conscious in an uncomfortable situation, a case of nervousness before a big test, a business presentation or a stage performance. You may have a realistic fear of a dangerous object, place, or situation. You can have anxiety, sadness, or difficulty sleeping immediately after a traumatic event.

    There is an important distinction between everyday anxiety or stress as a feeling and an anxiety disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis. You can feel anxious without having an anxiety disorder. Also if you are facing  real danger or a realistic fear, you are not usually considered to be in a state of anxiety. You may have an anxiety disorder if your anxiety impairs functioning in your daily life.

    One of the most common anxiety disorders is called generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. It's quite different from the feeling of everyday anxiety that I was describing. GAD is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with this disorder experience exaggerated worry and tension, often expecting the worst, even when there is no apparent reason for concern. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about money, health, family, work, relationships, or other issues.

    Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. They don't know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.

    Now if you would like to learn more, visit www.adaa.org and check out other videos on anxiety and anxiety disorders, including lifestyle changes you can implement to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.