• Melanie Rivera

Understanding the difference between Worry and Anxiety


The difference between worry and anxiety


This blog helps to distinguish the difference between manageable worry and problematic anxiety. Firstly, I think it is fair to point out that it is normal to experience worry at certain times.



Often there will be a cause or rational reason behind concern. However, excessive worry can cause anxiety and stress. Clinically, excessive worry is the primary symptom of GAD, which stands for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety disorders are problematic because they are more difficult to manage.


Anxiety problems are common

According to national health statistics, GAD is the most common anxiety problem, estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59. However, when we consider the number of people who for whatever reason, avoid seeking clinical help, including younger people, then this number is likely to be much higher.


How is worry related to anxiety?

As human beings, we have a natural tendency to attempt to engage in mental problem-solving on an issue we perceive to be uncertain. When there is no immediate solution, naturally, our minds can wander into the possibility of one or more negative outcomes. Worry relates to the stress response; we can start with a single concern, which escalates and becomes overwhelming. Borkovec et al. (1983) describe worry as a chain of thoughts and images laden with negativity; the accumulation effect becomes uncontrollable.


Defining Worry and Anxiety.

Worrying is one form of thinking about the future, and it has been defined as thinking about future events in a way that leaves you feeling apprehensive. The oxford dictionary defines worry as a cause to feel anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems. Anxiety is the state of being troubled over actual or potential problems.


The automatic response to fear

Our body will respond to what it perceives as a danger or threat. From a physiological standpoint, the body reacts to the trigger (or stressor), and the body prepares to protect (the fight or flight response). This automatic response to danger does not differentiate between real or imaginary risk or threat. Either way, it responds automatically to protect you.


An example scenario:

COVID-19 is a situation we can all relate to, and it is a genuine cause of concern. However, you might become aware that you are worrying more than usual, which might prompt you to gain some perspective and adjust your thinking in response to it; you might use a bit more self-care to ease your concerns. These are all good ways to manage stress and worry. However, when anxiety becomes a problem, it is is persistent, even when the concerns are unrealistic. When unmanaged, anxiety can become overwhelming and often compromises our ability to function.


Worry Versus Anxiety

Firstly is normal to experience some level of worry and (or) anxiety. But there is a difference between everyday worries and troublesome anxiety. Worry resonates with having something on our minds, whereas anxiety also triggers a response felt in the body.


What does worry feel like?

When we are worried, we can feel irritable, making it more challenging to concentrate, but it is more containable. It is more specific; you can distinguish it by recognising a single source or root cause. For example, you’re contemplating an upcoming exam and worry you haven’t studied enough, but this can lead to an actionable step of going through your notes one last time. The point is, we do what we can realistically do to manage the isolated worry and find a sense of peace in that. Worry comes and goes. Although bothersome, it is manageable, and it does pass.


What does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety often escalates to a sense of dread or fear and can trigger a range of physiological responses. You might notice being constantly on edge, for example, easily startled and jumpy. Other common bodily reactions include; headaches, tension, dry mouth, excessive thirst, shortness of breath, palpitations (strong, fast or irregular heartbeat), pins and needles or tingling feeling, dizziness, body temperature changes, restlessness, tiredness, insomnia, muscle aches, trembling, shaking, sweating, nausea, stomach ache. Anxiety can feel overwhelming, and there can be a generalised sense of dread that keeps cropping up. It can be difficult to know what you’re anxious about (you can’t see the wood for the trees), which creates a vicious circle that keeps the fear and anxiety going. There is also a tendency to overestimate risk, even when there is little to no real chance of an adverse outcome. Anxiety clouds our judgement, making it difficult to recognise our ability to cope with life’s challenges, impacting resilience.


When anxiety is persistent, irrational, and affects your ability to function in life. It could be time to seek some help.





Help is available

The good news is there is help available for anxiety. But, as with most things in life, there is no one size fits all approach. One helpful tip is to understand the various approaches out there, and this can help you make a more informed decision on what might be the best type of support to suit you. Check out the other blogs, as new ones are being added.


Seeking further help

Finding the best type of help to suit your requirements can be daunting. There are many different types of support out there. Many therapists and counsellors offer a free initial conversation and this is a good way to see if you and the therapist are a good match.


There will be other posts on #different therapy approaches, #How to choose a good therapist

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