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Questions and answers about anxiety


What is the difference between worry and anxiety?


Worry is the thinking part of anxiety in which a person regularly predicts the occurrence of negative or catastrophic events in his life or in the life of loved ones. Worried thinking often leads to  anxiety’s physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, restlessness and disrupted sleep, to name a few.


How can I tell if my anxiety is normal?


Experiencing some degree of anxiety in life is normal. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it is overwhelming and causes significant change to your lifestyle or relationships. An anxiety disorder can keep a person from coping with life’s ups and downs and make a person feel anxious most of the time, sometimes without any identifiable cause.


What is an anxiety disorder?


Anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that an individual will do anything to avoid them, including stopping or changing everyday activities.  Anxiety becomes an “anxiety disorder” when it significantly interferes with common daily activities.  For example, severe anxiety can prevent a person from going to work or engaging in meaningful activities with friends and family. The body will also react to anxiety that lacks an actual “cause.”  For example, during a panic attack, a person might experience one or more physical symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, numbness, tingling, stiff muscles, and breathlessness in response to an imagined threat.  Even though there is no actual threat, the body’s reactions are interpreted as life-threatening, even though they are not dangerous.


What are my treatment options?


There are many strategies and techniques that can be used to help cope with worry and anxiety. Some involve strategies to help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety directly through methods like muscle relaxation, imagery, or breathing exercises.  Other strategies are designed to teach worriers to change catastrophic thinking so that imagining worse case scenarios and predictions of disaster are either reduced or aren’t taken seriously.  Treatment strategies used by professional health care providers usually address both problems.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on how thoughts and feelings influence behavior.  CBT teaches individuals to recognize when their thoughts are unrealistic and contribute to anxiety. The therapist works with the client to change irrational thoughts and beliefs to more realistic thoughts and to determine what behaviors are the result of the unrealistic thoughts.  Positive changes in thoughts and behaviors are likely to result in reduced anxiety.

Exposure therapy is a treatment in which a therapist works with a client to seek out, under controlled conditions, anxiety producing situations that the client finds frightening. By doing so, individuals learn that neither the feared situation nor the physical symptoms that can occur are dangerous and that other catastrophic thoughts are not accurate.  With practice, the fear of situations or physical symptoms gradually evaporates over time.

Last Updated: February 27, 2024
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