Do you use the terms worry and anxiety interchangeably? If so, you’re like most people. Yet how we experience them are as distinct as the impact they have on our mental health and well-being.
Psychologist Guy Winch, PhD, has explains some of the differences as the following:
- We tend to experience worry in our heads and anxiety in our bodies.
- Worry tends to be more focused on thoughts in our heads, while anxiety is more visceral in that we feel it throughout our bodies.
- Worry tends to be specific while anxiety is more diffuse.
- We worry about getting to the airport on time (specific threat) but we feel anxious about traveling—a vaguer, more general concern.
- Worry can lead us to think about solutions and strategies for dealing with a given situation. Anxiety is more like a hamster wheel that spins us around but doesn’t lead us to productive solutions. Indeed, anxiety’s diffuse nature makes it less amenable to problem solving.
- Worry creates mild emotional distress, anxiety can create severe emotional distress.Anxiety is simply a much more powerful and hence, disruptive and problematic psychological state than worry.
- Worry is caused by more realistic concerns than anxiety. If you’re concerned about getting fired because you did really poorly on a project, you’re worried. If you’re concerned about getting fired because your boss didn’t ask about your child’s piano recital, you’re anxious.
- Worry tends to be controllable, anxiety much less so. We have much less control over our anxiety, as it is much harder to “talk ourselves out of it.”
- Worry tends to be a temporary state but anxiety can linger.
- Worry doesn’t impact our professional and personal functioning; anxiety does. Anxiety can make us feel so restless, uncomfortable, and incapable of concentrating that we might literally feel too distressed to work.
- Anxiety disorders (2018). In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. Retrieved September 29, 2018 from: http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org.
- Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved September 29, 2018 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: When worry gets out of control. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved September 29, 2018 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml.