Healthy Life: Anxiety: Regular Vs. Excessive? A blog by psychotherapist Ivan Rubio

Everyone will experience anxiety from time to time. But, how can we tell the difference between regular vs excessive. For example, the demands and stress of college life can make experiencing anxiety more frequent. So, it can be tough to tell the difference between normal anxiety and a condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder. For this reason, it’s important to learn the difference.

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, which I have briefly discussed in the “What is Stress” section. It can be uncomfortable, but It can also motivate us to accomplish our assignments, to study harder for a test and it can warn us when we are in a dangerous situation. It informs us to be extra vigilant about our environment — to fight or runaway. On the other hand, a disorder involves intense and excessive anxiety, along with other debilitating symptoms.

Regular or Disorder: key differences?
Stressors. Anxiety occurs in response to a stressor, something that represents a potential threat, such as: an exam, an upcoming interview, a fight with a friend or a new job. When a disorder is present, we are anxious almost all the time, for what seems like no apparent reason, but there is always a reason. Unfortunately for individuals struggling with disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD), the brain has become an expert at finding and focusing on what it believes are reasons (potential threats) to be scared and it is very difficult to stop it.

Intensity and Length. An anxiety disorder also produces intense and excessive emotional responses. Even if you’re reacting to a stressor, your symptoms are disproportionate to that stressor. For example, it is normal to be anxious before an exam, but individual’s struggling with GAD might be anxious several weeks beforehand, and will experience intense symptoms right before, during, and even after the exam. Also, normal anxiety is transitory, those struggling with a disorder will experience symptoms which can last days, weeks or months.

Other symptoms:
Excessive anxiety and worry aren’t the only symptoms that accompany a disorder. There are physical symptoms that are all too common and which most individuals struggling with anxious disorders will recognise almost immediately, symptoms such as: dizziness, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, heart pounding, headaches, nausea and fear. we feel like we can’t breathe, can’t talk, like we are having a heart attack. Individual’s struggling with anxious disorders also report feeling detachment or disconnected from reality. They worry about day-to-day things, they also might feel like they can’t think straight and have difficulty concentrating. They experience racing and or fearful thoughts and are unable to control them.

Impairment. When we struggle with an anxious disorder, it affects our entire life. It impairs or interferes with our schoolwork, job and relationships. Avoidance is they most important symptom of all anxious disorders and can be quite debilitating. In other words, the symptoms can cause you to avoid normal activities. You might skip class, miss a test, stop going to work, procrastinate grocery shopping or avoid anything that makes you feel anxious.

Anxiety: Is it excessive?
If after reading this, you believe you might be struggling with an anxiety disorder, first know that you are not alone, 1 in 4 Canadians will struggle with some form of anxious disorder in the span of a year. Secondly, anxiety disorders are very treatable and depending on the individual we can see significant results within as little as 4 sessions. Still not sure? Complete the following, anonymous, test: Free generalized Anxiety Disorder Test.

Ivan Rubio is a Licensed Psychotherapist with over 7 years of experience in private practice. His mission is to encourage individuals with the right dosage of support, to help them overcome their own difficulties. Thus far he has opened two mental health clinics. He is the Co-founder of RISE Anxiety & Depression Clinic. Ivan has hosted Couple retreats throughout Canada and North America, helping relationships regain that feeling of love again. Ivan also hosts workshops on a variety of topics. Aside from couple work and workshops he specializes in anxiety disorders, depression, self-esteem, abandonment issues, and more. Ivan’s work has been featured on Global News.

Photo: RISE Anxiety & Depression Clinic