How Worry Differs from Anxiety
While anxiety and worry share many similar attributes, they are different. Almost everyone worries, so what is worry vs anxiety?
1. Worry can be rational, while anxiety often involves catastrophic thought patterns
Worry is commonly rooted in reason, whereas anxiety is not. For example, you might worry that you’ll be late to work because an accident is causing traffic. This worry is rational, objective, and based on a logical thought process. It’s also fleeting. You likely won’t have the same worry on tomorrow’s commute into the office, unless there’s another accident or traffic jam.
If you have anxiety, however, you might have a tendency to think the worst in every situation. You may panic about getting into a car accident since you just saw one, or you may fear losing your job because you’ll be late. Irrational thought processes that stem from anxiety often disrupt practical and reasonable thinking.
2. Worry is usually asymptomatic, but anxiety presents with physical symptoms
One thing to keep in mind when researching the differences between worry vs anxiety is how physical symptoms present in each. While someone who worries can experience mild physical symptoms (like a nervous stomach) usually, feelings related to worry quickly resolve and don’t cause major disruptions to the body.
Unfortunately, people with true anxiety often experience physical symptoms ranging from nausea and trembling, to weakness, to rapid heart rate, and more.
3. Worry is planned, while anxiety is not
When you worry, it’s usually about an upcoming event you’re concerned about. For example, you might worry that you have a test soon, and you know you’ll need to study in order to do well. Worry can even be helpful in cases like this because it can motivate you to learn or prepare.
The same is not true when it comes to anxiety. You can’t plan when anxiety will come on. Some people may have test anxiety the day of the test, no matter how much they’ve studied. Or they may feel anxious about having to fly on a plane in a few weeks. Anxiety can seem to come from nowhere, and it can lead to intrusive thoughts and fear of impending doom.
4. Worry is fleeting, but anxiety is not
You can problem-solve with worry, but anxiety is harder to fix. You may worry about getting to an early morning appointment on time, so you set your alarm early. Your need to worry is likely over.
If you have anxiety, though, you might not be able to fall asleep the night before your appointment because you fear your alarm may not go off. Then, even if you wake up on time, your anxiety might make you feel panicky over the possibility that construction, an accident, or getting lost (or all 3 of those things) might make you late.
Even things that are unrealistic or unlikely to happen can cause anxiety. It can get so bad that it might begin to affect your ability to function. Unlike worry, anxiety is a chronic condition that can have a significant impact on your daily life and functioning.
5. Worry doesn’t usually impact daily functioning, but anxiety can
If you have anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. For example, people with anxiety may have such a severe fear of germs that they’re afraid to work in an office building.
Many people worry about getting sick, but they don’t let their fear prevent them from participating in daily activities. Someone who worries might take precautions, like washing their hands, wearing a mask, or using hand sanitizer, but they won’t let any apprehension stop them from working.
“Worry can be understood as a symptom of anxiety. We cannot control how automatically our worry thoughts appear in our minds, but if you’re noticing they’re causing you distress, or they are impacting your sleep or your focus at work, we definitely encourage you to reach out to a therapist. Know that there is lots of support out there for you, you deserve help.”
The Luthas Center therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC