Do You Know the Difference?
In today's cruel and random world of Covid-19, a certain amount of worry and anxiety are normal.
Most people use these terms interchangeably but they are entirely different things and have entirely different implications for our health and well-being.
Here are five key differences between worry and anxiety:
Worry tends to reside in our minds while anxiety affects both body and mind.
Everyday worries take place in your thoughts, while anxiety often manifests physically in the body. For example anxiety may make you feel faint or lightheaded. Some people even hyperventilate.
Worry is specific while anxiety is more generalized.
Whether you're fixating on your odds of catching Covid-19 or concerned about your job being secure, worry is distinct and concrete. Anxiety is generally vaguer. You feel unsettled, but you can't pinpoint what you're really anxious about. And that can make problem solving difficult.
Worry is grounded in reality while anxiety is marked by catastrophic thinking.
There's a logical component to worry. Your brain is trying to make sense of a real and present danger. Worrying when your fears are actionable makes sense. It’s worry that can lead you to take coronavirus precautions, like washing your hands and wearing a mask. Anxiety, on the other hand, overestimates risk. For example if the real risk of a covid-19 test coming back positive is 5%, someone who is anxious may perceive the risk closer to 75%. To make matters worse, people who are suffering from anxiety may also underestimate their ability to cope with a negative outcome.
Worry is temporary while anxiety is longstanding.
Worry is usually short term. There's a concerning situation (like COVID-19) and you worry about it. Worry prods you to use problem-solving skills to address your concerns. Anxiety is persistent, even when concerns are unrealistic. It often compromises your ability to function.
Worry doesn't impair function while anxiety does.
You probably won't be forced to take a sick day due to worries about finances or weight gain. Anxiety, however, seeps into your psyche and can make it difficult to focus and get stuff done.
If you worry excessively, or if you're struggling with anxiety, there are a few things you can do at home:
Turn off the news: Watching the news increases feelings of stress. You can learn the basics and discover what's going on in the world with only two minutes of screen time. Anything more than that and you're just watching the same anxiety-provoking news on a loop.
Practice mindfulness: Taking 5 or 10 minutes a day to tune into yourself and your surroundings. This can have powerful anxiety-quelling effects.
Challenge negative thoughts: If you frequently think, “I can't do this” or, “I'm stuck,” try challenging these thoughts with two other thoughts: Is this really true and is my thinking helpful? In most cases negative thoughts are fueled by an anxious brain. Stopping them with a challenge test can help reset your mind.
Get comfortable: Since one of the hallmarks of anxiety is avoidance, exposing yourself to what you're anxious about (in small doses) can help you build up tolerance. The idea is to desensitize yourself to discomfort, to sit in the emotion until you acclimate. This type of "exposure treatment" works best when patients also learn relaxation and calming skills.
Take steps to decompress: It's important to do things each day that help you decompress and manage uncomfortable emotions. Maybe you go fishing on the weekend. Maybe you like to walk in the park or play sport. And most importantly, whatever you do, make sure you make time for fun and laughter.