While feeling anxious or worried is often painful, anxiety is a normal emotion. Understanding the difference between situational anxiety and clinical anxiety can make a huge difference in feeling better.
“I’m so stressed at work, it’s giving me anxiety.”
“My relationship is going through a rough patch, and I feel so worried.”
“I’m always nervous and overthinking things, I guess I’m an anxious person.”
Do any of these examples sound familiar?
Feeling anxious is often painful and uncomfortable. And this might even make us wonder if feeling this way is normal.
The answer is yes: anxiety is a normal emotion!
While this is a natural emotion, there’s a difference between every day, normal worries and clinical anxiety. When we understand this difference, it can help us cope and feel better.
We might use the label “anxiety” when we feel worried about a specific situation, an upcoming event, or a life change. For example, this could happen when we switching jobs, graduating college, or moving to a new city. Or maybe it’s a situation where we’re dealing with tough relationships or health issues. These types of situations or events are called stressors. And the reason we feel stressed is because these are usually situations we perceive as risky, uncertain, or even dangerous.
Feeling anxious when facing a stressor is completely natural. Everyone experiences this at some point in their life. This is because humans face many stressors, sometimes on a daily basis. And anxiety is a natural physical and mental response to these stressors.
Think about this like our body and brain’s internal warning system: it lets us know when something needs our attention, or if something is risky or threatening. Because of this, it makes sense if we feel anxious in situations where there is uncertainty. That’s why we’ll often call this situational anxiety.
With some support and positive coping skills, we can often learn how to manage these stressors. When we recognize that these feelings are tied to the stressful event or situation, we can take care of ourselves until the stressor no longer feels scary or threatening, or the stressor goes away.
But some of experience a more persistent type of anxiety. We might be feeling constantly worried, or we’re endlessly overthinking things. Or maybe we feel a sense of dread and nervousness about many different things, or seemingly with no reason at all. You might even feel like you can’t stop or control it.
This is called clinical anxiety, and it can feel painful and exhausting. It can even get in the way of living life. If this is the case, there is hope!
First, it’s important to not ignore or downplay how you are feeling. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns that people experience, impacting about 40 million adults in the U.S. each year. Second, therapy can be a wonderful tool for helping you learn skills to manage and overcome these uncomfortable experiences. Research shows that therapy approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have helped millions of folks feel better and take back control of their life.