Want to know my biggest pet peeve? When the words “anxiety” and “worry” are used interchangeably.

If I was given only one wish to be granted in my entire life it might be that people would stop. Especially in faith-based communities.

They are not the same thing when it comes to chronic and disordered anxiety. We need to stop telling those who struggle with anxiety that they “just need to stop worrying.”

Here are 7 ways that anxiety and worry are distinctly different experiences:

Worry and anxiety are completely different experiences. Let's stop using the words interchangeably. Here are 7 reasons that they are different.

 1. Worry is specific. Anxiety is vague.

Worry is founded in realistic concerns that are specific and can be named.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is fear of the general “unknown.” Most often anxiety cannot be named or explained by someone who is experiencing it.

2. Worry makes us want to fix the problem. Anxiety causes paralysis.

Because worry is based out of specific and often realistic concerns, it causes us to respond and act on those worries. We desire to fix the problems and remove the cause for our concern.

Anxiety does the exact opposite. Since those who struggle with disordered anxiety are unable to name the specific reasons they feel that way and the fear is generalized the natural response is paralysis and an inability to take action. That is why most people who struggle turn to compulsive behaviors so they feel they have some sort of control over something.

3. Worry causes mild emotional responses. Anxiety causes severe emotional response.

Worry is a natural human response. If humans didn’t have any sort of “concern” then there is no way we would have survived this long. However, it causes a minimal emotional response because we are still able to take action against what is causing worry.

Those who struggle with chronic and disordered anxiety have unreasonable and over-reactive emotional reactions to their environment and circumstances. This hinders the ability to act against what is causing the anxiety. If they can even name what is the source in the first place.

4. Worry is controllable. Anxiety is controlling you.

Although worry is a natural human response, we are able to control how long we dwell in that place. Since worry allows us to be cognitively responsible for how we respond to it we can control what we do with our emotions in response. Whether we act to remove the cause or realize we are unable to control what is triggering us to worry, we are called not to dwell there and choose to have faith and trust that God will provide what we need.

Anxiety, however, is very different. Because chronic or disorder anxiety is functioning outside of cognitive awareness we are unable to be fully responsible for our reactions to it. Anxiety manifests itself subconsciously and controls our body’s physical responses to it without any cognitive awareness of what is causing it. (Click Here for my fully story living with high functioning anxiety for the first 23 years of my life.)

5. Worry is relatively temporary. Anxiety can last for days.

Because worry is rooted in realistic concern. It motivates us to act and remove what is causing the worry, it is often a temporary experience. Especially if we are disciplined enough not to dwell in what is causing us worry and choose to have faith.

Anxiety that is chronic and disordered is a general fear of the unknown and is hard to explain. Since anxiety is hard to name and almost impossible to “fix,” it can last for days on end. Anxiety that lasts overnight is most likely a sign of chronic or disordered anxiety.

6. Worry is in the mind. Anxiety manifests in the body.

As we have said a few times before, worry is a cognitive response in the mind. When explaining what is causing worry there is most often a linear and logical explanation that can be communicated verbally.

Chronic and disordered anxiety is a physical response in the body. The mind is separate from the body’s response to the high stress that it is experiencing. Most often those who struggle with anxiety are unaware that these annoying little things they gotten used to is actually their body’s coping with chronic anxiety. (Click Here to learn more.)

7. Worry doesn’t negatively impact our personal or professional functions. Anxiety ruins our ability to function normally.

Worry isn’t an all mind consuming response to a concern (unless we sinfully choose to dwell there). Most of the time if there is a concern we are able to distance our mind from what is worrying us. We are able to function normally outside of those circumstances and environments.

Anxiety- even when we have no idea what is causing it- ruins our ability to function normally. Those who struggle with chronic and disordered anxiety are unable to focus, are often tired and abnormally fatigued, and experience a mind “takeover.” This can even look like “spacing out” or “flat lining-” even just staring into space and daydreaming. (Or day-nightmareing.. Anxiety is all about worst-case-scenarios.) It is the brain’s coping mechanism for escaping the stress and anxiety that it is experiencing, even when we are consciously unaware of it.   

Chronic and disordered anxiety is hard to understand- even if you do experience it. If you are more curious about what chronic and disordered anxiety looks like in all of its forms, Click Here.

But, as the Church we do a disservice to our brothers and sisters who struggle by saying that anxiety and worry are the same thing. They aren’t. (Click Here for more of my thoughts on this.)

The Fall did a lot of damage to us. We would be foolish to ignore the fact that the Fall was also responsible for chemical disorder and dysfunction in the brain. Just because we feel as though we should always have cognitive control, that simply isn’t the fact for everyone.

Do your part and start differentiating between the two when you are talking about worry and anxiety.

Share this article to start the conversation.

Worry and anxiety are completely different experiences. Let's stop using the words interchangeably. Here are 7 reasons that they are different.

Worry and anxiety are completely different experiences. Let's stop using the words interchangeably. Here are 7 reasons that they are different.

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2 Comments

  1. Katie, this post opened my eyes big time. It’s made me start to realize that I might be struggling with anxiety…maybe for a long time. Thank you for explaining the difference!

    1. Brianna! I’m so glad that this post might have been helpful. It’s so hard to differentiate between the two, especially when most of us don’t have any idea that our bodies are really experiencing anxiety physically! I pray for guidance and growth in awareness of your experience- and the courage to share so others might find hope, too!

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