Worry and anxiety tend to be interchangeable in daily conversations. “I’m so anxious about my upcoming test” means the same as, “I am so worried”.
But worry and anxiety are two different things from a psychological perspective. And one is more serious than the other.
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10 Key Differences Between Worry and Anxiety
So what is the difference between the two?
1. Worry is exact, anxiety is general.
With worry, we know exactly what it is that is bothering us. We worry we said the wrong thing on a date, or we worry we can’t afford our upcoming wedding, or that our son is failing in school.
With anxiety things are far more widespread and vague. You are anxious everything under the sun will go wrong at the wedding, and the second one thing is solved, you find something else to panic about.
Sometimes anxiety is so general we don’t even know what is causing it as all. You just know you are feeling increasingly tense, agitated, and under threat. If someone asks what is the matter you just say, ‘I don’t know’. Because you don’t.
2. Worry makes sense, anxiety is irrational.
When we are worried we know why. An exact thing is upsetting us.
Anxiety, on the other hand, rarely makes sense outside of our own thoughts. And it tends to be dramatic.
“I said too much in that meeting” soon becomes, “and my boss will hate me, and I’ll get fired, become destitute and live in a box on the street.”
Not sure if your thoughts are logical or not? Speak them out loud, preferably to someone you trust. If they start saying, ‘I see what you mean, but…’ it’s probably worry. If your friend says something along the lines of, ‘that makes no sense’, or ‘you are being dramatic‘, it’s more likely anxiety. And if you yourself immediately hear how illogic you sound, that’s a major clue.
3. Worry is limited and escapable, anxiety is everywhere.
When we worry, it tends to be in a certain area of life. Perhaps we are worried about our recent job performance. If we go out with our friends, we can find some respite from our worry, at least for a few hours.
Anxiety, however, leaks into all areas. There will not be a part of life that is clear of it. Even your attempt to escape on a spa day will see you anxious about the traffic getting there, the cleanliness of the place, and if you’ll be able to stop feeling anxious and relax. Yes, we can even have anxiety about anxiety itself.
4. Worry is verbal and mental, anxiety is also physical.
Worry is thought-based. Sure, it can keep us up all night so we are exhausted, but it’s rarely something we physically feel.
Anxiety not only affects your sleep, it tends to cause a myriad of other physical symptoms. These can include a racing heart, sweating, dry mouth, teeth grinding or jaw clenching, tight shoulder muscles, an upset stomach, dizziness, and light headedness. In fact a high percentage of people who go to the doctor or hospital for heart issues are actually diagnosed with just anxiety.
5. Worry leaves us stressed, anxiety leaves us afraid.
Worry can leave us nervous. But anxiety leaves us truly afraid. Even if we mentally convince ourselves we aren’t afraid, our body shows signs of fear – we are jumpy, our heart is pounding, we have nightmares when we sleep.
6. We talk about worries but hide anxiety.
Worry is socially acceptable. Talking about things like health worries or worries about our children is normal.
Anxiety, however, causes shame, so we can hide it. Sadly we don’t live in a society where it’s as acceptable to share what we are afraid of, or to air our irrational thoughts.
7. Worry is manageable, anxiety is beyond our control.
Even if we are extremely worried about something, on a certain level we know that the ‘nightmare’ will end, or we will do something about the situation.
With anxiety, no matter what other people say, or whatever things we manage to achieve, it is still there. It feels far beyond us to stop it.
Sit down with a good friend and make a list of logical actions that could help with what is upsetting you. Then ask for support in getting those steps done. If you feel better, it was worry. If your mind has just found something else to obsess on, then you are in the throes of anxiety.
8. Anxiety affects your functioning.
Worry can be annoying, but it doesn’t stop you from your day-to-day life. You still get to work, perform well, have a social life.
Anxiety, on the other hand, changes your ability to function. You might start doing poorly at work or school, start avoiding friends, skip the gym. All your energy is being taken by your anxious thoughts.
9. Worry can leave you upset, anxiety leaves you distressed.
Worry can be very upsetting. You might even cry when you talk about your worries, should you be the emotional sort.
Anxiety can leave you feeling hopeless. You will have ‘doom and gloom‘ thoughts, or really feel you are in danger.
10. Worry eventually passes. Anxiety stays or worsens.
Again, worry does have an end. Eventually the situation resolves or passes and you feel better.
Anxiety is not affected by results, even if they are positive. For example, if you are anxious at work, no amount of success or promotion will stop the tension you feel daily.
Why is anxiety more of a concern that worry?
Worry and anxiety are both worth talking to a counsellor about. But anxiety is much more pervasive and out-of-control. Over time, anxiety can develop into panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and severe depression, all of which can greatly impact your ability to function.
It’s important to get help for anxiety sooner rather than later. General anxiety is easier to treat than an anxiety disorder or major depression.
A short-term therapy that works well for anxiety (and doesn’t see you having to go over your past) is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It helps you recognise your distorted thinking and change it to balanced thinking.
Would you like to work with a highly experienced, friendly therapist who can help you with anxiety? Harley Therapy connects you with top anxiety therapists in central London. Not in London, or outside the UK entirely? Our sister site harleytherapy.com puts you in touch with therapists you can see in-person, or over the phone or online. We’re here to help, so do get in touch.