Well that depends on who you ask. When I typed that question into Google I got 537 million results!
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome” or “strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen”.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as “ an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future”.
The NHS defines it as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe”.
And the American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as “ an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”.
The APA also goes on to say that “People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”
So what’s the difference between anxiety, which is a standard human emotion, and an anxiety disorder?
Is there a difference between feeling anxious and suffering from anxiety?
And whether there is or there isn’t, what’s the best thing to do about it?
You might also be wondering what the difference is between worry, stress and anxiety. Put simply, according to Dr Luana Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Anxiety = Worry (what happens in your mind) + Stress (what happens in your body)
There’s a really good article with more details about this in The New York Times if you want more information.
Back to anxiety and its impact on you.
According to the NHS, “Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, see a GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress. Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your worries, fears and emotions to find out if you could have Generalised Anxiety Disorder” or another condition in which anxiety plays a prominent part, such as panic disorder, phobias, PTSD or social anxiety.
So it’s standard practice to feel anxious before something like
- A driving test
- A first date
- A difficult conversation
- Abseiling down a 60 foot cliff (been there, done that)
These are one-off incidents, part of everyday life (well maybe not the abseiling) and things that we all have to deal with at some point (again, maybe not the abseiling) and although it’s uncomfortable and distressing to feel anxious, the feelings pass and don’t hang around getting in the way after the event.
However, as the NHS guidance above states, if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety on a regular basis and/or those symptoms are getting in the way of your normal life then it could be that you are suffering from one of the conditions listed above. If you think you may have one of those conditions it is important that you seek medical advice.
Having said that, medical services are very stretched and even if you receive a diagnosis you may face a long wait before being able to access treatment, and that’s where I come in.
Whether you have a diagnosis of anxiety or not, one of the most important and useful things you can do is work to discover what has caused you to be so anxious. You are likely to find that a relationship or an incident in your past has led you to experiencing anxiety today. In very general terms, something happens that sets off an alarm in your unconscious mind and/or your nervous system and it puts you on high alert. Your mind and body are responding to something that they perceive to be a threat because something like it was a threat in the past. Your anxiety is your mind and body’s defense mechanisms kicking in to protect you even though you probably don’t need protecting any more.
Once you uncover what that threat was, then you are well on the way to overcoming your anxiety.
If you’d like to get started on that process, please get in touch to arrange your free initial coaching session with me.
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