The Difference Between Having Anxiety & Having An Anxiety Disorder

The Difference Between Having Anxiety & Having An Anxiety Disorder

Yes, everyone does suffer from anxiety. No, that is not the point.

A while ago I came across this brilliant Odyssey article, which was underlining some very crucial points about how ‘healthy’ people view anxiety. It argues that while everybody gets anxious, not everyone has anxiety. Now, this is a concept on which I am wholeheartedly on board, but I feel like it needs to be framed in a different way.

Mental illness is something that has only started becoming widely-accepted recently. Keywords like ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression' are regularly thrown around, without any real understanding behind the meaning. These misunderstandings cause arguments and friction between those with different viewpoints and this only inspires more prejudice.

In reality, anxiety is a relatively straightforward concept that, yes, everyone does experience. Those who go through the sort of anxiety so wonderfully described in Felicia's post, are actually suffering from a fault--or disorder--in the brain system that controls this emotional response.

What Is Anxiety?

In its simplest terms, anxiety is your fight/flight reflex. It’s a prehistoric alarm system that was built to afford you superhuman qualities when danger is around. Anxiety is what gives mothers the ability to lift cars off their babies, what takes away your need to sleep, eat, relax until the noted problem resolves.

I'm not a Doctor Who fan, but the show once had the most amazing quote, which I noted down for later.

“Fear gives your superpowers. You can do anything when you’re afraid.”

And it's true! It's clear that early man developed this intense reflex to escape from wild animals, fight warring tribes, and protect their family. Unfortunately, as time moved on, society changed and our brains developed around our Limbic System – the prehistoric part – significantly complexifying our emotional responses.

Anxiety & Modern Life

The modern world doesn’t easily tessellate with our anxiety response. Now, immediate survival is not such an imminent concept. Ensuring our safety has become more about long-term success and less about escaping from danger and fighting for our lives. Where stress was once instant and quickly resolved, it now spans over years of employment, mortgage payments, social pressures and much, much more.

While some people – we’ll call them normal people, for want of a better word – can actively shut off these stresses, others cannot. One man may come home from a stressful workday, have dinner with his family and relax for the evening; another could do the same job but worry away a sleepless night agonizing over deadlines, potential mistakes, and growing workload.

Here lies your difference.

You may be anxious about your upcoming job interview, but if that anxiety stops you from eating, sleeping and connecting with you loved ones, then this is a problem. It is the result of a brain whose fight/flight response is firing off relentlessly until the perceived problem goes away. A brain that cannot compartmentalize stresses; can't properly employ the more recently developed neuro-structures that rationalize worry.

This is what it is to have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorders

Mental illness is just what is says on the tin – an illness. By claiming anxiety as solely existent as part of that, it makes it easier for stigma against sufferers to be justified. ‘Normal’ people do suffer from anxiety, so if we simplify our problems to just that, then you can understand why we get responses like ‘just calm down' or ‘cheer up.' To someone with a functioning brain, it is possible to quell anxiety with a change in thinking.

An anxiety disorder, however, is a significantly different kettle of fish. It’s a normal brain function that’s gone severely awry. It shoots off when we get something wrong or make a mistake; it takes our deepest darkest insecurities and relentlessly highlights them in everything we do; we get scared leaving the house, seeing friends or even opening the curtains. It’s a disease that needs to be taken seriously and accepted for what it is.

The mental landscape is an eternally complex thing. Even this explanation is grossly simplified. It's obvious that understanding mental illness will never be black and white, but this is why it's so important to clarify terms and establish a concrete understanding where we can.

There are so many excellent posts out there about life with mental illness; now is the time to have these conversations and share our experiences. If you're an anxiety sufferer, please, please, please leave a comment below and let us know how you relate to this! The more we talk, the more we can help each other!

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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I'm The Person Who Always Says 'Yes' And I'm Tired Of It

I'm sorry for being blunt, but being a people pleaser is a tiring job.


Being a people pleaser runs in my family. My mom and I talk about this weakness of ours all the time, especially when we are both worn out from saying "yes" too much.

When it comes to academics, I always go above and beyond to ensure I did everything correctly in order to please the professor or teacher. If there's ever an instance where I feel as if I can't meet or complete a task, my anxiety takes over and out comes a handy-dandy panic attack. Typically, this ends with tears rolling down my cheeks, a headache, and someone telling me to worry about myself and to not stress if it's hurting me too much (if they see me panicking, that is).

Me going to check off "handy-dandy panic attack" in my handy-dandy notebook after a long day.

As a high schooler, the game of saying "yes" was easy and somewhat manageable. In college, however, that game has changed, and it has changed drastically. There was something about non-stop work that was added in… not a fan.

I don't know why saying "yes" has always been instilled in me, but I cannot think of a time when I was not constantly saying "yes" to others. The moments you will always catch me saying "yes" are moments when it comes to helping someone. Sometimes I interject myself because I feel guilty if I don't offer the help.

Of course, there are instances when I truly mean the offer I give, but then there are other moments when I highly regret asking. There have been plenty of times where I have gotten myself into too many outings at once and my extroverted-introverted self becomes beyond angry with myself.

If I say "no" to someone, there's this sense of guilt that hangs over my head for at least a week and it doesn't go away.

While I enjoy making others happy in (almost) any way possible, I believe it is time for me to start saying "no." This does not mean I will be saying "no" to every single thing someone asks me to do, but rather, I'll take a second to think about how much time and energy will have to go into the whole situation before diving in headfirst.

My new slogan will be "Just say no… sometimes."

Instead of stressing over every detail of an assignment for class, I'll stress over the major details rather than the microscopic ones. Before I interject myself into a situation, I will take a moment and think about whether my help is even necessary or wanted. This will be no easy task, especially for this anxiety-ridden people pleaser, but I am going to do the best I can. The over-achiever in me needs to sit down, take a chill pill, and over-achieve in the category of saying "no."

For those who also say "yes" way too much: breathe. The world will be okay without our help, even if it feels like it won't.

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