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Anxious vs. Having Anxiety: What’s The Difference?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 2/2/2022

If you don’t experience general anxiety — or have experience with random bouts of anxiety — odds are, you have a friend or a loved one who does.

In fact, data shows that anxiety is America’s most common mental illness, affecting more than 40 million (or 18.1 percent) of Americans every year.

You don’t need to be an adult when experiencing anxiety, either. Whether you’re fully grown or a child anxiety knows no boundaries when it comes to touching someone’s life and well-being.

Whether anxiety arrives consistently or in the occasional flare-up, it can be a burden to anyone who doesn’t know how to cope with it.

Fortunately, there’s a multitude of preventive measures to combat anxiety.

But before seeking the best way to care for your anxiety, is there even a difference between simply feeling anxious and having anxiety?

The Difference Between Feeling Anxious & Having Anxiety

More than anything, it’s the consistency with which anxiety rears its head.

When it comes to experiencing an anxious moment, having anxious feelings, those feelings can be associated with worry, nervousness and fear.

Physical symptoms can accompany your anxiety, too. Those symptoms can be: sleep trouble, irritability, headache and stomach aches.

The good news when it comes to experiencing something like the occasional bout of anxiety is that it’s very treatable.

But when it comes to having consistent anxiety, that’s when things get a little more serious.

If you have anxiety — if you’re an anxious person — generally what that means is you’ve some form of anxiety disorder.

While some of the feelings associated with having anxiety disorder of some kind — generalized worry, fear or nervousness — overlap with having anxious moments, the ramifications of one’s anxiety are more profound if you have an anxiety disorder.

If you have an anxiety disorder, the consequences can affect your personal relationships. It can affect how you treat or relate to your family or partners, how you perform at work — how you generally engage with the world.

Needless to say, if you find yourself experiencing a generalized form of anxiety, it’s worth giving therapy a shot.

Why not help yourself out?

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What Does it Mean to Feel Anxious?

Anxiety is a broad umbrella-term. Falling under the umbrella of “anxiety” are feelings and experiences such as dread, uneasiness and fear. 

Feeling anxious can manifest in someone both internally and externally.

For example, you might have racing thoughts you can’t seem to control. Maybe you have a critical deadline looming, or a big meeting in which you want to thrive. 

Suddenly, your thoughts start racing: What if I fail? What if I embarrass myself, or embarrass myself in front of my team or boss?

Those thoughts and feelings fall under the rubric of feeling anxious.

When you feel anxious, those feelings can also show to you or someone in your company.

Your breathing, for example, might heighten — race, even. You might also start to sweat, causing you to only worry even more about the anxiety itself.

Typically, if you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, the anxiety eventually abates and you’re able to go about your business comfortably.

In fact, in some cases, anxiety can help one’s performance by focusing someone on the task at hand, whether it’s thriving when taking a test or when on the pitcher’s mound hoping to win a big game.

More often than not, the occasional anxious flare-up is not cause for alarm — nor does it incentivize someone to seek out help for the anxiety.

With some simple, critical steps — deep breathing, grounding, meditation — you can do something to mitigate the anxiety you’re feeling.

But what if that very anxiety continues to show up?

And what if that anxiety is starting to be a serious drag on you every day?

Well, that’s something different — and it’s important to explore and unpack.

What Does It Mean to Have Anxiety?

There’s a difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety. 

It’s challenging to figure out whether you have anxiety or are feeling anxious, but once you figure it out and seek help, it can make all the difference.

First, the technical term for having anxiety is anxiety disorder.

When you have an anxiety disorder, that often means you have anxiety symptoms that do not simply go away.

However, when it comes to having an anxiety disorder, there’s a whole slew of classifications that can define the specific disorder you’re suffering.

Here’s a breakdown of the major anxiety disorders — what they’re called, and how they manifest.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

When you have generalized anxiety disorder, the first thing mental healthcare professionals look for is how long you’ve been experiencing general anxiety. 

With GAD, you’ve experienced anxiety symptoms most days for at least six months before receiving a diagnosis.

Beyond time-length, therapists and other mental health professionals can assess your mental health state by locating symptoms you’re experiencing.

With GAD, there are a number of symptoms to be on the lookout for. A few of those symptoms are:

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue (sometimes inexplicable)

  • Physical tension, often in your muscles

  • Racing thoughts

  • Worried thoughts

  • Uncontrollable thoughts

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate and/or absorb information.

Panic Disorder

Having a panic disorder means one suffers from panic attacks.

Now, what’s a panic attack?

A panic attack is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) as, “an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort" reaching a peak within minutes. Four or more of a specific set of physical symptoms accompany a panic attack.” 

While they can subside within minutes, the nature of a panic attack can be terrifying to anyone who’s in the thick of one.

Panic attacks include all the nastier elements of anxiety within one condensed period of time, often without warning: shortness of breath, sweating, increased heart rate, chest tightness, dizziness, nausea, and generalized or specific fear.

Another trigger for a panic attack can be fear of the next panic attack. Since a panic attack doesn’t necessarily have a specific trigger, any and all conditions and externalities can influence a future panic attack.

Phobia-Based Anxiety

This kind of anxiety is influenced by a specific fear (or fears) one has. The fears can range from anything to the rational to the seemingly irrational. 

Worse, the person with the phobia can blow the phobia’s power completely out of proportion, resulting in greater anxiety — and even a panic attack.

What are the fears we’re referring to?

They can range from: fear of blood, germs, heights, bugs and animals. 

They can also be related to a social setting, as well as the people and expectations within the social setting. This is called social anxiety disorder.

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Separation anxiety is an anxiety disorder sparked by excessive worry and fear related to the anticipated separation — or actual separation — from an individual or other “attachment figure.”

Separation anxiety disorder is a common anxiety disorder in children.

You can tell someone has separation anxiety disorder because it manifests with a surprising — even imbalanced — level of fear, concern and anxiety. 

Further, the context in which the anxiety manifests can be confusing to those witnessing the other person’s separation anxiety.

Can I Do Something About My Anxiety?

Absolutely!

You can seek out a number of remedies to do something about your anxiety, regardless of the severity of the anxiety itself.

There are several therapeutic roads you can take — whether it’s talk therapy, medication and psychiatry or ‘all-natural’ means of mental health improvement, your options are just about unlimited when it comes to addressing your mental health conditions.

Coping Techniques

Without going the full-on therapy route, there are a number of basic, ready-at-hand coping techniques for confronting your anxiety.

Here’s a list of the best coping techniques that we think could help you, whether you’re experiencing a moment of anxiety — or if you are constantly anxious:

  • Take a moment for yourself. Stepping back and doing some yoga, deep breathing or another form of gentle self-care can go a long way.

  • Eat well. Why not put nutritious food into your body?

  • Moderate your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both alcohol and caffeine can contribute to your anxiety.

  • Breathe. Slowly, deeply. Just breathe.

  • Get some exercise — it does wonders for the body and brain alike!

  • Accept what you cannot control — and you cannot control everything.

  • Laugh. Nothing touches the soul quite like a good laugh.

  • Have a positive attitude. Understand that you’re resilient and that you can get through an anxious moment.

  • Figure out what triggers your anxiety. Once you understand what triggers you, you can work to avoid — or even beat back — that trigger.

  • Talk about your anxiety. It can be a friend, a relative or a therapist. But talking about it, airing it out, can help lessen the severity of your anxiety.

  • Volunteer. Nothing can help your mind better than getting involved with helping others.

Therapeutic Outlets

Talk therapy, for example, will offer you forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy (PT), humanistic therapy (HT), conditioning therapy (CT), exposure therapy and others.

And in psychiatry, your provider may blend talk therapy with the appropriate medication to help your condition, such as SSRIs, SNRIs and others.

First, hers offers a variety of online mental health services that cater specifically to your mental health care needs and assist in doing something about your anxiety — including online therapy and even anxiety treatment online.

With hers’ psychiatriatric services, you can work with a licensed psychiatrist. You can blend talk therapy with the appropriate medication to help you contain and ultimately combat your anxiety.

And, if you’re in need of a broader support structure, hers also offers online group therapy

In hers’ online support groups, you’ll be paired with a group of women who can offer you the support you need to understand that you’re not alone in your journey of confronting, facing down and beating back your anxiety.

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The Bottom Line on Feeling Anxious vs. Having Anxiety

Feeling anxious and having anxiety can feel similar in the moment, but it’s worth learning and understanding the difference. 

Feeling anxiety — experiencing a momentary bout of anxiety — albeit uncomfortable and inconvenient, is a generally normal thing to endure from time to time. We all feel nervous before a presentation or a first date, and those feelings usually subside relatively quickly.

But having persistent symptoms of anxiety can mean suffering from anxiety disorder, which comes in many shapes and sizes. 

Luckily, whether momentary or chronic, anxiety symptoms are treatable — from medications, to therapy, to in-the-moment exercises, you have options and support.

Once you understand what kind of anxiety you suffer from, getting the right kind of help gets a whole lot easier. 

19 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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