Distinguishing anxiety from normal worrying can be quite challenging. I often get asked this question.
The key element is really whether the anxiety symptoms that one has seem out of kilter with the situation that one is encountering. Let me give you an example. In normal worrying, it’s appropriate before an exam to worry about how your performance is going to be.
In normal worrying, if you’re going for a job interview, it’s appropriate to be worried about that. In anxiety, there’s a tendency to worry about situations which most people wouldn’t worry to a significant degree, and that depends very much on the type of anxiety that that person has.
For example, if you’re worrying about going to the supermarket or you’re worrying about getting on a bus, or you’re worrying about queueing and being delayed for long periods of time, that would be an example of excessive worry in keeping with an anxiety disorder.
If you have irrational fears, you’re clearly worrying about things that are not likely to happen. If you’re catastrophising about things that are unlikely to happen, if small things are blown out of proportion, those are some of the types of anxiety symptoms that are more in keeping with an anxiety disorder versus normal worrying.
Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney