Navigating the line between clinical anxiety and healthy anxiety may seem like a complicated process. Recognizing, understanding, and classifying symptoms as clinical anxiety disorders can be crucial to gaining control. From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety works to protect us. We used to identify dangerous animals or be wary of poisonous berries; we now have to be careful crossing the street. If you feel anxious before public speaking or a job interview, your body is doing its job because these events could negatively affect your life. The anxiety can work to make you prepare more and ultimately do better during your speech or interview. However, anxiety can work against you if it becomes debilitating and you forget the words in your speech, or you can’t come up with a quality answer during your interview.
Anxiety appears in many different forms and levels of intensity. The key to knowing if your anxiety is atypical is if it is persistent and has a positive or negative effect on your life. Feeling uneasy while walking down a dark street alone is a rational response. The fear of being in a crowded space like the grocery store is irrational and may lead to you avoiding activities necessary to your day-to-day functioning.
So what is healthy anxiety? Have you ever experienced an uneasy feeling? Have your muscles tensed up, or your stomach feel like it’s flipping? Maybe you spaced on what to say next. Your thoughts and emotions connect to your physical reactions. Anxiety commonly stems from the fear of losing control or something terrible happening but can also be triggered by excitement (think prewedding jitters).
For example, you may experience a bodily jolt as you get closer to a busy two-lane street that you have to cross. You now think to hit the crosswalk button, look both ways, and stay in the crosswalk while staying alert to your surroundings. Your anxiety keeps you safe by bringing to your attention the appropriate steps to safely cross the road. Anxiety can affect you psychologically, physiologically, and behaviorally. Physical symptoms of healthy anxiety may consist of a rapid heartbeat, queasiness (stomach flipping), dry mouth, or sweaty palms.
For anxiety to remain healthy for you, it should be helping you progress forward or alerting you to something that you can work to change. You should not feel stunted or have a debilitating thought that is fear-based that goes on for days. Healthy anxiety is fleeting and manageable.
What is Clinical Anxiety?
Clinical anxiety tends to add stress rather than mitigate it in a way that healthy anxiety does. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the clinical diagnostic terminology. It is indicated by ongoing, excessive worry or fear that lasts for at least six months without having phobias, obsessions, or panic attacks. Excessive means that the worries or fears are often debunked or disproportionate to the actual risk.
To be diagnosed with GAD, your anxiety has to focus on at least two stressful life circumstances. These stressful life circumstances could revolve around work, relationships, health, finances, or school. People who suffer from GAD are aware that the frequency and intensity of their anxious thoughts and emotions are out of proportion to the likelihood of the feared events occurring in real life. However, they struggle to allow their rational awareness to lead their behaviors instead of their irrational, anxious thoughts leading.
The psychology Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which mental health professionals use, has provided a list of symptoms related to GAD. Worry and anxiety from GAD are related to three or more of these six symptoms. These symptoms should be present for at least six months.
- Feeling easily fatigued
- Trouble concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
Test if you have GAD or not
To decipher whether your worries are excessive to the point that you may have a diagnosis of GAD, try the following techniques:
- Journal your thoughts and behaviors for at least 1 week
- Are your worries being followed by an actual risk (confirmed by others, too)? Your worries are valid.
- Do your worries never come to fruition? Your worries may be excessive.
- *Use a screening tool:
- Beck’s Anxiety Inventory
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale
*Utilizing a screening tool does not take the place of having an actual assessment done by a trained professional. These are for your personal use only and are not meant to be used as an official diagnosis.
- Discuss your worries with friends or family members; what is their perception of your thoughts?
- See a doctor and rule out all possible medical conditions.
- Medical conditions that frequently cover-up or mimic a GAD diagnosis are irritable bowel syndrome (gastrointestinal conditions), sexual dysfunction, a lack of orgasm, asthma, heart issues, endocrine, inflammatory, metabolic, neurological, or respiratory conditions.
Anxiety is a normal part of life, but sometimes it can put you in distress. If your worrying thoughts and emotions feel like they’re excessive, we encourage you to call The Better You Institute at (267) 495-4951 to start working on challenging your thoughts and gaining control.