When Does Long-Term Stress Become An Anxiety Disorder?

Posted on: 14 May 2019


Anxiety is a common feeling, but for many, it is more than just a reaction to a bad situation—it's a disorder that requires therapy from organizations such as The A Treatment Center and sometimes medication. Telling anxiety apart from an anxiety disorder is not always clear to people who don't know the difference. In a nutshell, anxiety is a response to a specific issue that most people would consider stressful, while the disorder can see your mind racing over topics that normally wouldn't be cause for concern.

Why Has the Stress Been Long-Term?

If you've been feeling overly anxious and stressed for a long time, look at why that stress has been around for so long. Are you working on a PhD dissertation and preparing for your defense? Yes, you're going to be stressed for a long time, and feeling anxious about your dissertation and defense is a normal reaction to this. Are you worried about bills? Yes, feeling anxious about finances is normal in this situation.

However, are you anxious about what's happening at the job you quit last year? Do doom-and-gloom scenarios about past work coming back to haunt you run through your mind? Are you worried about how everything is going? That may tip over into an anxiety disorder because the situation you're worried about is not one that most people would really worry about. You left that job a year ago. Unless you did something specifically awful, there's no reason to even think about problems from that old job coming back to bite you.

Are You Stressing About Specific Stressful Issues Only?

Are you worried about a current and intense work project, but not too worried about life in general? Then you're dealing with some work stress, and the anxious feelings surrounding that are to be expected. But if you're worried about work, life, school, walking down the sidewalk, doing laundry, stepping into a grocery store, and so on, then general anxiety could be an issue for you. This is a disorder in which you worry about things that you really shouldn't worry about. You shouldn't be anxious about doing laundry in general (again, this assumes there's nothing strange going on regarding the situation at hand). This is a task that most people would simply do and get it over with.

Are You Ever Able to Calm Your Anxious Feelings?

How well can you calm those anxious feelings? If you can take a break and relax, then you're likely dealing with some situation-specific stress and related anxious feelings but not an anxiety disorder. However, if you can't seem to get away from the anxiety, like you've got a permanent cold feeling on the back of your neck even though everything is logically OK, then that's a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Treatments can vary, but those who seek therapy for anxiety do feel better. You need to learn how to control your mind's willingness to indulge in these feelings. When you know what's going on and what to do about it, you'll find life gets a lot happier and calmer.