Some anxiety is actually good for you, but anxiety disorders can be destructive.
Everyone experiences anxiousness from time to time—but anxiety disorders are a little bit different. When it’s constant and severe, anxiety can be unpleasant, destructive, and life-altering. While some anxiety is actually good for your health and safety, anxiety disorders can really get in the way of your daily life.
What Is Anxiety?
There’s a difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety is a biological response to a perceived threat. When you sense something is off, your body kicks into gear to protect you. Your heart rate speeds up, your blood pressure increases, and you become hyper-alert. As a result, you’re better able to identify and react to danger.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
If you have a type of anxiety disorder, you may experience frequent anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual threat (if there is one at all). This level of anxiety is so frequent or severe that it starts to interfere with your daily life and your function. You might start to avoid certain things, such as:
- Attending social events for fear of rejection
- Trying new things for fear of looking silly
- Pursuing major life goals for fear of failure
- Entering relationships for fear of abandonment
There’s obviously truth to some of these fears: There is a risk of looking silly when you’re trying something new, or having someone you love leave you. However, to someone with an anxiety disorder, these fears become disproportionately large. They may go to great lengths to avoid the fear, to the extent that it starts to interfere with their life.
Although there are different anxiety disorders with different symptoms, one thing they have in common is rumination. This is repetitive, obsessive, internal questioning without seeking a solution. For example, someone may ruminate that their boss actually hates them and is looking for a reason to fire them, but they never actually seek feedback from their boss to get a better picture of their standing.
Getting Help for Mental Illness
If you believe your anxiety is hurting you more than it is helping you, it might be time to seek support from a doctor or mental health professional. Get more information here:
Marc Lener, MD, is a psychiatrist and founder of the Singula Institute in New York City
- Generalized anxiety disorder in adults: epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2021. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)
- Mental health conditions: depression and anxiety. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)
- Myths & realities. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (Accessed on March 24, 2021)