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Anxiety and Worry: What’s The Difference?


Has anyone ever told you that you worry too much? If you’re one of the 40 million people living with anxiety in the U.S., there’s a good chance you have.

While all of us regularly experience some level of worry and anxiety, sometimes its frustrating to tell the difference between the two. What do these terms mean? Both states are characterized by a sense of concern, fear, and probably stress. However, they’re not the same.

Lets take a look at a few differences between worry and anxiety.

Worry is an uneasy feeling, where you’re overly concerned about something. You may worry about things like health, finances, or family problems. 

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger. When your brain perceives a threat, it sends out a series of signals, resulting in the fight-or-flight response. Separate from worry, anxiety is our reaction to situations perceived as stressful or threatening. 

Consider worry and anxiety as opposing sides of the same spectrum. One good way to know if your worry has shifted into anxiety is whether or not you can push the brakes and get it under control. If you can, it’s probably a worry. If you’re having a hard time, it could be a sign that it’s turned into anxiety.


Your brain and anxiety

Your brain is hard-wired to react to threats in one of three ways:

  • Fight 
  • Flight 
  • Freeze 

When anxiety hits, you’re probably unaware of how quickly this reaction takes place. The emotional mind takes over and alerts your body to the perceived dangers-whether it’s real or imagined, while the logical mind temporarily shuts down.   With anxiety, the mind continues to perceive the threat even after its gone.

Here are a few other ways that worry and anxiety differ:

Worry tends to dwell in mind, while anxiety affects both the body and mind. Everyone experiences different physical reactions, but it’s common to feel faint or lightheaded. Some people even hyperventilate. Anxious people are also more likely to suffer from digestive problems like nausea, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.

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Worry is specific, while anxiety is generalized. Worry is definite and concrete. Anxiety is usually more vague. You may feel unsettled, but you can’t pinpoint exactly what you’re anxious about — and that can make problem-solving a challenge.

Worry often triggers problem-solving; anxiety doesn’t. Worry can guide you to think about potential solutions and strategies, while anxiety is more like running on a hamster wheel. Anxiety’s scattered nature makes it less responsive to potential solutions and can blow things out of proportion more frequently, with much more intensity than worrying.

There’s a rational element to worry. The brain is attempting to make sense of the natural and present danger. Worrying when your concerns are actionable makes logical sense. When you worry, you’re probably thinking about an actual event that’s currently taking place or is about to take place. It’s the worry that can lead you to take precautionary measures, like washing your hands to avoid getting sick. On the other hand, anxiety exaggerates the risk and makes you hyperfocus on ideas and ‘what if’ scenarios that the mind creates.

Worry is temporary, while anxiety can linger. Worry is usually short-term. There’s a concerning situation, and you worry about it. Worry pushes you to use problem-solving skills to address your concerns. Anxiety, on the other hand, is persistent, even when your concerns are unrealistic. Once you resolve the issue you’re worried about, It diminishes and disappears. Anxiety can linger for long periods and even jump from one focus to another (one day, you feel anxious about work, then about your health, about your kids, etc.).

Worry feels controllable, while anxiety makes you feel out of control. By problem-solving and thinking through strategies to deal with the worry, you can diminish it significantly. Anxiety is much more difficult to talk yourself out of and makes you feel out of control.

Worry doesnt need treatment, while someone with anxiety could benefit from professional help. Managing anxiety thats persistent and intense can be treated. If you or someone you know is concerned about an anxiety disorder, consider seeking professional help. Working with a therapist or a counselor can help you manage your symptoms.


We all experience anxiety and worry from time to time. While both can cause discomfort, the good news is there are many tools and resources to help you manage worry and anxiety. The key is to recognize whats going on in your mind, so you can use the right strategies to deal with the present circumstances.

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Take this quick quiz to find out whether your overthinking habit is holding you back from getting the success (you know) you deserve.