The Difference Between Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and worry sometimes. In fact, a little bit of anxiety in your life can be a good thing – anxiety can motivate you to accomplish tasks in work and school or warn you if you’re in a dangerous situation. Anxiety tells you to be hyper aware of your surroundings and whether to fight or flee.

The demands and stress in your professional and personal life can trigger these feelings and possibly make it difficult to determine if you’re experiencing “normal” anxiety or have an anxiety disorder.

The biggest difference between general anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that anxiety disorders can cause so much distress that they interfere with your ability to lead a normal life, impacting your work, personal life or health.

Anxiety disorders are a type of mental illness that center around excessive, irrational fear or dread. Individuals with an anxiety disorder constantly worry to the point it becomes overwhelming and disabling. But each type of anxiety disorder comes with its own set of feelings, triggers and symptoms.

People with a social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, experience overwhelming worry and feel self-conscious about everyday social situations. With social anxiety disorder, the worry typically focuses on the fear of being judged or behaving in a way that could be embarrassing.

Panic disorder is very different – people with this type of anxiety disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly without warning. These panic attacks are often accompanied by chest pain, palpitations, sweating, and a feeling of choking.

People can also have specific phobias, with intense fears of specific objects or situations like heights or flying. A fear of flying or heights doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder – someone with a specific phobia of something feels a level of fear that’s generally inappropriate and may cause them to avoid everyday situations.

And then there’s generalized anxiety disorder, which is excessive, unrealistic worry and tension even if there’s little or nothing to provoke those feelings.

These disorders each have their own set of physical and emotional side effects, but general symptoms include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
  • Heart palpitations
  • Problems sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness

Fortunately, with treatment, you can manage those feelings, prevent those symptoms and get back to living your life. Although the treatment approach is based on the type of anxiety disorder you are struggling with, there are a variety of therapies that can be used or combined for most anxiety disorders, including medication, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, and dietary and lifestyle changes.

About the Author

Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.

2 Responses

  1. Len Warren

    It is too bad Dr. Caputo is not in the Atlanta, GA vacanty. I have a friend who is suffering from Generalized Anxiety. That is my feeling of course after the the list of symptoms. He leans on me for advise and comfort but I can’t really help him. Every little thing gets him so upset he just falls apart. I suggest therapy but he never make an appointment to see a doctor. His wife is an oncologist. He doesn’t trust her. What can I do to help him?

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