Key takeaways:

  • If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there’s a big difference between situational anxiety and having a mental health condition like an anxiety disorder. 
  • Everyone experiences worry, fear, and anxiety from time to time. You can have these feelings without having an anxiety disorder. When felt in response to a real and present danger, they can help keep you safe.
  • If you’re worried that your anxiety is getting out of control, it might be time to speak with a mental health professional. They can provide an anxiety disorder evaluation and support you in learning to manage your symptoms. 
“After I went back to school my anxiety got out of control.” “Every weekend I get a terrible case of the Sunday scaries.” “Just the thought of getting on a plane gives me a panic attack.” “Ever since my last surgery, I get super anxious about going to the doctor.” Sound familiar? If so, that’s because people are becoming more willing to speak openly about their anxiety. Statements like these frequently come up in casual conversation and you may even recall saying something similar yourself. Fortunately, this increased openness has helped to reduce the stigma around mental health. But it’s also led to some confusion around the difference between feeling anxious and living with an anxiety disorder.  Everyone experiences anxious feelings once in a while and typically this discomfort fades in time. But we also know that anxiety disorders are incredibly common, affecting 19% of adults and 32% of young people ages 13 to 18 in the US.  If you’re struggling with persistent anxiety that is negatively affecting your life, it might be time to consider a professional evaluation. An anxiety-focused therapist can help you discover whether or not you meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Together, you can create a treatment plan that works for you. 

What is anxiety?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is “an emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune.” Unlike fear, which focuses on a present danger, anxiety focuses on a threat that might arise in the near or distant future.  Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worries or situational fears. They involve spikes of panic or dread that can come out of nowhere or seem excessive for the situation at hand. These intense feelings are typically accompanied by a variety of physiological symptoms. People living with anxiety disorders often have trouble managing their symptoms and their discomfort can persist for months or even years if not treated. 

What are the symptoms of anxiety? 

Anxiety affects different people in different ways and there are several different types of anxiety disorders. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are some common physical and emotional symptoms experienced by people living with anxiety. If you or someone you care about is having trouble managing any of the following, it could be helpful to seek a professional evaluation for an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety include:
  • Restlessness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained aches and pains like headaches or body aches
  • Stomach or digestive issues
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tingling or trembling
  • Avoiding anything that you think might cause a spike in worry (triggers)
  • Losing interest in once enjoyable activities or social situations
  • Having an intense fear about a specific object or situation (like heights or flying) 
  • Feeling like your worries are out of control
  • Feeling a pervasive sense of dread about the future

What can I expect when being evaluated by a provider for anxiety? 

If you think you could be living with an anxiety disorder, one of the first and most important steps in healing is seeking a professional evaluation. But If you’ve never worked with a therapist before, you probably have some questions about what to expect.  While it might be tempting to try to self-diagnose using one of the countless anxiety tests you can find on the internet, there is no substitute for working with a professional. Rest assured, your therapist will do everything they can to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you. Before any evaluation takes place, you and your therapist will talk about your symptoms and how your anxiety is affecting your life. You’ll be encouraged to share information about your family history (including first-degree relatives who might also suffer from anxiety) as well as details about how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms.  You’ll talk about your known triggers and anything that’s helped you navigate your anxiety in the past. These discussions will lay a foundation of understanding that will help your therapist interpret the results of any evaluations they provide. One of the most frequently used anxiety disorder assessments is the GAD-7. GAD stands for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and this brief seven-question survey is something your therapist will likely have you fill out several times to measure the intensity of your symptoms over time.  When filling out the GAD-7, keep in mind that there isn’t a score that will automatically qualify you for an anxiety disorder diagnosis. You should not use your score to self-diagnose, as the results need to be interpreted by a clinician. Rather, the results of the GAD-7 or any other assessment, in addition to your therapist’s observations, will help determine whether your anxiety is situational or clinical in nature.  

What should I do if I think I have anxiety?

If your anxiety is negatively affecting your life and it won’t seem to fade on its own, it might be time to consider anxiety therapy options. Many people living with anxiety have trouble finding a therapist and sometimes attending sessions in person can be a struggle.  But with Rula, you can use our matching tool to find an anxiety-focused therapist who takes your insurance — in less than five minutes. From there, you can use our telehealth platform to meet with a therapist for a professional anxiety evaluation and co-create a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms. 

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