Many of us, at one point or another, have said something along the lines of “I’m about to have a panic attack because of (insert hardship).” This popular saying is not only exclusive to social conversations, but is also prominent in the media—for example, in TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. By saying this, we don’t intend to add to the stigma of anxiety disorders. Rather, we are just saying that some form of impending adversity is causing us to feel nervous. However, these sayings may dilute what it truly means to have anxiety or an anxiety-related disorder. The popularized version of anxiety refers to feeling anxious—feeling worried or uneasy due to some upcoming hardship like an exam, a job interview, etc. However, there is a clear and marked distinction between anxiety and feeling anxious, which may not be obvious as the two words are very similar at a first glance.
Individuals with anxiety disorders experience anxiety that is “persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming” (“Understanding the Facts”). The uneasiness and nervousness these individuals face is “excessive and irrational” (“Understanding the Facts”). Consequently, these individuals may dread and even avoid everyday situations that make them feel this way. This interferes greatly with one’s life. What may also not be obvious is the root of anxiety disorders—that is, how it originates and develops. A popular misconception states that the causes of anxiety disorders are usually rooted in the individual's childhood—perhaps due to a traumatic event that occurred during that time period. However, this isn't necessarily true. In actuality, the different forms of anxiety disorders develop due to “a complex set of risk factors including genetics, brain chemistry, and personality, in addition to life events” (“Understanding the Facts”).
Meanwhile, anxiousness is a feeling that describes one’s worries about an issue they are facing. While both individuals with and without anxiety can feel anxious, those with anxiety disorders have feelings of nervousness that are persistent, unwarranted and/or overwhelming. Put simply, when an individual unreasonably feels anxious on a day-to-day basis, then they have an anxiety disorder.
These popularized sayings, like the one mentioned above, are not reflective of true anxiety. They simply convey feelings of nervousness. These sayings may seem innocuous, but misinterpretations can cause people to associate feelings of nervousness with actually having an anxiety disorder. However, having an anxiety disorder is more serious and perhaps even harmful as they impede one from everyday activities. With that said, the following chart, created by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), clearly depicts the differences between the everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders.
As seen in the chart, everyday anxiety refers to feelings we all come across throughout our day-to-day lives. Meanwhile, those with anxiety disorders have feelings of anxiety that end up defining their lives. Something that would not ordinarily cause us to feel nervous might seem really worrisome to someone with an anxiety disorder. This is not to say that anxiety is not treatable. In fact, anxiety disorders are highly manageable with therapy, medicine, and support (“Understanding the Facts”).
“Understanding the Facts.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.