General Question

La_chica_gomela's avatar

How do you know the difference between an anxiety disorder and normal anxiety?

Asked by La_chica_gomela (12574points) July 17th, 2009

How do you know if your anxiety is just the average level of anxiety that everyone has to deal with, it’s not the most fun thing in the world, but it’s part of life, or if you have a legitimate anxiety “disorder”.

I feel like I kind of walk around with a knot in my chest a lot of the time, and I kind of get worked up about things, not like worrying about the future, but more replaying the past, random things, and feel anxious about them. I feel anxious about social situations, meeting new people, seeing friends that I’ve known for years, I have a lot of separation anxiety. If I go more than about a day without talking to my boyfriend I’ll cry. Sometimes even if I’ve seen him or talked to him recently I’ll just start to miss him so much it makes me cry. I get really worried about my career, and my classes. I constantly worry about whether or not people I am friendly with like me, or if they’re just being polite.

Wow, that’s suddenly a really long paragraph, and I could write so much more about all the things I get anxious about. But I won’t right now.

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26 Answers

fireinthepriory's avatar

I think the traditional line between “anxiety” and “anxiety disorder” is whether or not these feelings interfere with your daily life. It sounds like they might, so I’d see a therapist or psychiatrist if I were you. It can’t hurt to talk to someone about it, right? Especially if they could potentially help you. :)

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I’ve heard that definition before, and I’ve never understood it. I mean, anxiety is a part of life. How could it not “interfere”. I’ve heard the same definition for ADD, but everyone loses attention eventually. I just don’t understand what that means. I mean, if you worry about what grade you got on a test, then that’s part of your life, is that “interfering” with your life? If I cry because I miss Tim after 1 day versus after 15 days, where’s the “interfering” line drawn? Both things exist in my life. What’s considered “interfering”? Anxiety is a fact of life. It can’t always be “interfering”.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Anxiety disorders are much more severe. They have a much more limiting effect on people’s lives. Many people have mild social anxiety which they can overcome on their own most times. Social anxiety disorder however keeps people from going out and meeting anyone. Meeting new people normally isn’t a big deal for many people. For some, the crippling fear keeps people at home and friendless for years.

fireinthepriory's avatar

@La_chica_gomela I’m not sure exactly. What I do know is that I never feel anxiety to the point where I’d even consider the fact that it was interfering with my life, and you have anxiety to the point where you wrote this question. There must be a line there somewhere!

Are you almost never at a place that you would call not actively anxious about something? Do you think that if you were less anxious, your life would be happier? Then in my opinion, it’s interfering with your life. You need to decide whether you think it is though, and go from there… and someone with training in this kind of thing might be able to help you figure it out.

nikipedia's avatar

Worrying about a grade is normal anxiety. Being unable to do normal stuff (laugh at jokes, go out with your friends) because you’re worried about a grade is interfering with your life. Missing your boyfriend is normal anxiety. Refusing to go out of town without him is interfering with your life.

The fact that you’re asking this question says to me that your anxiety is interfering with your life. It’s not incapacitating you, but it’s definitely having a negative impact.

I think for most people, anxiety is a healthy and helpful (if sometimes unpleasant) feeling that lights a fire under us and gets us to stop procrastinating, fix what’s broken, etc. If your anxiety is consistently making you unhappy, that sounds like it’s worth looking into. Maybe make an appointment with a counselor at your school, and see what s/he has to say?

One other thing—I wouldn’t worry so much about the “disorder” label. I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t all strive to be deliriously happy all the time. Who cares if it’s a “disorder” or not. It’s stopping you from being as happy as you can be, and there are definitely ways to fix it. Why not give ‘em a shot?

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@nikipedia: I talked to a school counselor once a few months ago (granted it was as a walk-in, and was in a state of complete disorder, bawling like a baby) but anyway, but I didn’t feel very comfortable with that particular counselor. Plus the office is right next to one the office that gives me one of my scholarships, and I had to duck into a random room to hide from someone I knew on the way out, plus I know that if the center perceives you as “a danger to yourself or others” they can suspend you from school (it happened to one of my friends over something that was really not that big of a deal) so the whole idea makes me nervous. But I’m also concerned, I feel like I should do something…

nikipedia's avatar

@La_chica_gomela: You raise very valid concerns, but these are solvable problems. I think one of the biggest problems with counseling is that you absolutely have to find a good fit with your counselor, and not all of them are going to meet that criterion. I bet if you met with any counselor and said up front that you were kind of uncomfortable with counseling and were committed to finding a good fit, your counselor would be THRILLED that you were so honest and would work really hard to help you with that.

In order to be perceived as a danger to yourself or others, you have to explicitly say something like “I am going to hurt myself or someone else.” Your counselor absolutely will not jump to conclusions about that kind of thing so I wouldn’t worry about that, and this would also be another GREAT conversation to have with your counselor. Again, s/he would probably really look forward to assuaging your worries (! there’s that anxiety again!) about these things.

As for the scholarship office, that’s one you’re just gonna have to live with. Let me ask you this: do you look down on people who get counseling? If so, why? If not, then why would anyone look down on you for doing it? I sure wouldn’t. I think it’s really brave to be able to admit something’s wrong and that you want to fix it.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

As far as the question, no I don’t look down on people who seek help at all, but a lot of older conservative people in positions of power look down on things that I think are admirable and awesome. And more importantly, I just feel like it’s my personal business if I want to go to counseling or not, and I’m (obviously) not quite comfortable with the idea personally, so I wouldn’t want anyone else to know about it until I felt comfortable telling them myself. I have to meet with them every week, and I would feel really uncomfortable in that situation. It’s not a situation I’m going to put myself in.

And my friend did not say that at all. I don’t want to get into the details, because it’s not my story to tell, and I know it’s personal to her, but she did not say anything like that, and the office definitely did jump to conclusions from my point of view.

Do you think it would be very expensive to meet with someone off-campus? I just really don’t see myself going back there. The idea makes me….well, anxious, not going to lie.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@nikipedia: PS Thank you for your answer so far. :-)

nikipedia's avatar

I think that would be a great compromise, especially if you’re still covered by your parents’ insurance.

marinelife's avatar

Rather than counseling, you could start with your physician. Your description regarding your anxiety and even your experience on the walk-in) sounds like it is beyond the range of normal anxiety.

Take care.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@nikipedia: How expensive do you think it would be? Just a ball-park

nikipedia's avatar

It really depends on whether your insurance covers it and what kind of counselor you see. I have heard figures from $0 to $300 (but this is usually for an MD). Or google around for some counselors in your area and find out their rates with and without insurance; many have sliding scales, too.

augustlan's avatar

No matter how much it costs, it will be worth it! I know it’s hard to shell out money you don’t have, but honestly, nothing is worth more than your peace of mind. Trust me on this one… I’ve been where you are. My life is so much better now that I’ve got the anxiety under control.

Marina makes an excellent point about starting with your regular doctor, too. Many people have an aversion to taking medicine to cope with such things, but please keep an open mind about it. It has helped me beyond belief.

cwilbur's avatar

I’ve seen too many people screw up their lives by taking antidepressants when they had serious issues that needed resolving—the problem was not the antidepressants per se, but the fact that once the antidepressants kicked in, the motivation to resolve the issues that led to the unhappiness and depression in the first place was gone.

I also had a hellish stressful period that was caused by a ridiculous boss and a ridiculous commute, and my doctor at the time offered me antidepressants. This was a big red flag to me, because my misery was not the result of a chemical imbalance in my brain, but the result of environmental factors.

At the same time, one of my good friends in college was bipolar and had panic attacks. There was no other cause; he had been in therapy for a good long while. If he had medication for them, he was fine.

Sometimes psychological disorders are biological in origin—they really are a chemical imbalance, or a mis-firing set of neurons. Other times they are environmental in origin—you’re depressed because you’re in a chaotic and unreliable work environment, or because you can’t feel secure about your relationship, or because you just got out of an abusive relationship.

So there is no way I’d take medication prescribed for mental and social issues by my generalist, internist doctor. He knows blood sugar and cholesterol and blood pressure well; mood stabilization is outside his experience. I also would resist any medication prescribed by a psychiatrist unless (a) it was clear that the condition was biological in origin, and not situational or (b) there was a plan in place to address the situation causing the problem, as well as the symptoms resulting from the problem.

But I would see a counselor or psychiatrist, because without an accurate assessment by an objective third party, it’s tough to know what to do next.

rooeytoo's avatar

@cwilbur said it perfectly. There is no shame in taking meds but in today’s world, too many people are on meds when there is another solution.

I am completely non-religious but I found help working with a pastoral counselor. He had been a methodist preacher but went back to school. My sessions with him never had a thing to do with god or praying, it was just how I felt, why I felt that way, and how I could either stop feeling that way or learn to accept the way I felt. It changed my life.

So I would tell you find a good counselor and start there. If that doesn’t do it, then you may have to move on to a psychiatrist for meds. You have said you are going through rough times with your dad’s new girlfriend, that could be a trigger, add to it school and scholarships and boyfriends, no wonder you are stressed! You just need to learn the tools to deal with it, and you are lucky you are coming to this realization at your age, I didn’t realize how messed up the inside of my head was until I was much older.

Bri_L's avatar

For me it is a crippling experience.

I would start sweating. My heart would race. I would have to go and hide in a room where no one was. I felt like you would think it would feel like if you were in a closet and you could see the killer outside the door.

It would happen with my family, my wife’s family, at work, on the drive home. I went to talk to someone for about 5 weeks before we decided to put me on some meds. Having OCD didn’t help either.

YARNLADY's avatar

Interfering with their life means rather than feel very uncomfortable meeting new people, they cannot go into a room with new people, but they will sit out in their car rather than go inside. Beyond separation anxiety, they simply refuse to let him out of their sight, and get hysterical if he does leave. When it gets really bad, they won’t get out of bed, but rather wet the bed (and worse) because they are too paralyzed by fear and anxiety to get up. They can’t go to work or school, and they often cannot eat. When they collapse on the floor from fear, they are taken to the hospital, where they are diagnosed.

It is normal for people to be extremely uncomfortable in daily situations, and even to the point where they make themselves sick to the stomach or such, but they still do go on, to work, to class, and such. This is called “dealing” with it, and is normal. A counselor can help you find better ways of dealing, but you can help yourself.

When They can no longer “deal” with it, they become helpless and need outside assistance.

augustlan's avatar

@YARNLADY I have to disagree with you there. It is not normal to make yourself sick over daily things. Yes, people feel nervous about some situations, and that’s fine. I think if you are throwing up or crying your head off about things that other people handle just fine, it’s interfering with your life.

I had severe anxiety with panic attacks almost daily, but was still a fully functioning human being. I didn’t wet my bed, or collapse on the floor, but it definitely interfered with my daily life. There is no need to live like that. No need at all.

YARNLADY's avatar

@augustlan I’m glad you found relief. I know it’s hard for people to accept when they need help. It is difficult to tell sometimes. I read of a performer who threw up nearly every day from stagefright, yet she managed to become famous.

Bri_L's avatar

@YARNLADY – That was the situation with me. I would have to hide at large family functions. People I had known all my life. And then in larger crowds as well.

timothykinney's avatar

@augustlan: “No matter how much it costs, it will be worth it!” I would suggest caution in applying this idea to seeking help. I have a very good friend who spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a large number of therapies to try and find peace of mind. In many cases, he now feels he was being taken advantage of. For example, he was paying something like $300 per hour to call a psychic who would ask my friend to lay down and place the phone next to his head for an hour. The psychic would say that he was cradling my friend’s spine with his psychic energy. My friend now feels that this was a bad idea, but at the time it seemed like a lifeline.

I don’t think it’s worth it “whatever the cost” but I do believe that you should think of your life in terms of Maslow’s heirarchy. Start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up. Don’t worry about social status at the expensive of mental health. Don’t worry about your career at the expensive of your mental health. However, this is vague advice, at best.

Seek help, but be judicious in who and how much you pay.

augustlan's avatar

@timothykinney You make some good points. I certainly meant money spent on real help is money well spent, but I can see that someone might misinterpret my advice. Thanks for the reality check!

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

If you got a diagnosis, it would probably be Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Every disorder has criteria one must meet in order to be diagnosed with that disorder (although often there are unofficial criteria for a disorder, such as a slightly adjusted ‘time you must have this problem’ that many counselors will use to help them figure out how best to treat thier patient).
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about everyday things that is disproportionate to the actual source of worry. This excessive worry often interferes with daily functioning, as individuals suffering GAD typically catastrophise, anticipate disaster, and are overly concerned about everyday matters such as health issues, money, death, family problems, friend problems or work difficulties. They often exhibit a variety of physical symptoms, including fatigue, fidgeting, headaches, nausea, numbness in hands and feet, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, bouts of difficulty breathing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, insomnia, hot flashes, and rashes. These symptoms must be consistent and on-going, persisting at least 6 months, for a formal diagnosis of GAD to be introduced.
There are tests your doctor can give you as a starting point like the Burns Anxiety Inventory where you rate how true you feel different statements to be on a scale of 0–3.
Your doctor can then figure out if you’re dealing with everyday stress, having a bit of a rough patch you could use some help getting through, or if you have a more severe problem that needs professional attention.

Call up your family doctor for a price estimate. They can’t guarantee one particular price, but they will be able to tell you how much each office visit code costs (ask for what 99202, 99203, 99204, and 99205 cost – they’ll know what that means). Often they’ll have a discount for people who self pay at the time of the visit in full. Many doctors offices also have sliding scales or payment plans. If you have insurance, check out what your co-pay, deductible, etc is.

Flo_Nightengale's avatar

Anxiety is fear of the unknown. Most people experience that. Anxiety disorder is when it goes beyong the fear of the unknow and affects our activities of daily living.

sexybonytart's avatar

First of all I would recommend not taking an medication for this. A good meditation in the morning and maybe at night would definately help you find your Zen. If you need someone to talk too feel free to talk to me if you wish. :)

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