Anxiety is a common experience that people may feel in different ways. Some people may feel apprehensive, nervous, or even fearful.
Anxiety is probably a very adaptive, good part of our ability to cope with the world. For example if we have a test coming up and we feel anxious, or a big project at work, that anxiety may spur us to study harder or to prepare more for our test.
Just as if we’re walking down a dark street and we hear footsteps, our anxiety feeling may help us get ready to flee or fight if need be.
But at times anxiety can become an illness, and that’s when those feelings of anxiety are unreasonable, excessive, or interfere with our daily life.
Difference Between Normal Anxiety and Anxiety Disorder
Normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder has significant difference. Anxiety disorders affect one in four adults in the United States.
Normal anxiety usually occurs in reaction to some stressor. It may be a divorce, it may be an upcoming job promotion, or layoff, or fear of having an illness when you go and see your doctor.
Anxiety disorder is different. While normal anxiety is short lived, doesn’t usually interfere with your life dramatically, an anxiety disorder tends to be a chronic illness that has a significant impact on your daily function and may rob you of any joy in your life. Over 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent unexpected panic attacks.
Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something really bad is going to happen. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes. There may be ongoing worries about having further attacks and avoidance of places where attacks have occurred in the past.
Panic attack doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable. During a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear, or apprehension. They may feel that they’re going to die, or lose control or have a heart attack. They have a host of physical symptoms which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea.
In addition to these terrifying panic attacks, people start worrying about having the next one. So there’s a lot of what’s called anticipatory anxiety.
They will start avoiding places where they have a panic attack. So if they had one in a grocery store for example, they may stop going to the store. The good news is even though this is a very common disorder, it is very treatable.