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How can you tell the difference between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorder?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Anxiety is perhaps the most common mental health disorder today. Given our lifestyle and the stress that comes from daily life, many of us end up with worries. But is your anxiety a disorder? Read further to find out.

What makes anxiety a disorder?

Anxiety becomes a disorder when it is (1) severe enough to lower quality of life, (2) appears chronic and frequent enough to interfere with the way the person function, and (3) the experience is out of proportion to the dangers that they truly face.

Which is it?

The table below gives a good differentiation between every day anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Going through it will help you differentiate between the two.

Different type of anxiety disorders

Anxiety often has a comorbidity with depression and underlying both would be some trauma. And not all anxiety disorders are the same. Let's talk about the four most common ones: (1) Panic Disorder where fear overwhelms.

(2) PTSD

(3) Social anxiety disorder

(4) Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing panic attacks or panic disorder include: Family history of panic attacks or panic disorder. Major life stress, such as the death or serious illness of a loved one. A traumatic event, such as sexual assault or a serious accident.

As with other mental illnesses, panic disorder is believed to be caused by both chemical imbalances in the brain and genetic predisposition. Panic disorder can afflict people after age 18, irrespective of race or gender. It can be triggered by environmental factors.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. Common symptoms of PTSD:

  • vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)

  • intrusive thoughts or images.

  • nightmares.

  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma.

  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends.

The root cause of all social anxiety attacks is fear. When we fear being judged by others, when we fear judgment for ourselves, when we don't fit into societal norms, or when we believe that it will be worse if we are judged — these are all triggers for our fears of embarrassment.

People who are at-risk of social anxiety disorder are naturally more reserved or have experienced trauma like childhood abuse or neglect are more likely to develop the disorder. Additionally, those with a first-degree blood relative who has the disorder are anywhere from two to six times more likely to experience social anxiety disorder. In this sense then, trauma experts believe that social anxiety may be rooted in intergenerational transmission of trauma.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) is marked by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events for no obvious reason. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can't stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. This excessive, unrealistic worry can be frightening and can interfere with relationships and daily activities.

Physical and mental symptoms of GAD include:

  • perceiving situations as more threatening than they are

  • difficulty in letting go of worries

  • difficulty concentrating

  • difficulty sleeping

  • difficulty with uncertain situations

  • irritability, nervousness, overthinking, and difficulty relaxing

  • fatigue and exhaustion

  • muscle tension

  • repeated stomachaches, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal issues

  • sweaty palms

  • feeling shaky or weak

  • rapid heartbeat

  • dry mouth

  • being easily startled

  • neurological symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in different parts of the body

Childhood and teenage anxiety may occur in about 1 in 4 children at some point during their teen years. Symptoms in young people and teenagers can also include:

  • anxiety about fitting in with their peers

  • issues with confidence and self-esteem

  • worrying excessively about or avoiding social situations and schoolwork

  • worrying about approval from teachers and other authority figures

  • having issues with physical symptoms such as stomachaches

Treatment for anxiety disorder

Some anxiety disorders cannot be eliminated completely but it can be managed to a point where it no longer affects the functionality of the person. At 360 Wellness Hub we take a holistic integrative approach that combines the removal of inflammation factors, supplements, trauma informed therapy, psychotherapy and counselling. Book an appointment with us call 0184710020.

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About the Author


Dr. Lennie Soo

Founder and Clinical Director of 360 Wellness Hub.

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