When to Seek Help for Anxiety

Final exams, job interviews, public presentations, athletic performances. These events can make anyone anxious for a short time and, in fact, a certain level of anxiety helps us perform better by making us more alert and focused on our task. However, for some individuals, anxiety is a way of life and can be debilitating.


Anxiety is a normal, healthy human emotion. During appropriate times, anxiety prepares us to prevent or avoid a dangerous situation and heightens our arousal.

Experts at the Betty Hardwick Center, a community mental health center, say anxiety is a secondary emotion. Unlike happiness or fear, which are primary emotions and easy to distinguish in others, anxiety is not readily recognizable to outside observers; it's an internal, private experience. Anxiety and fear are closely related emotions. The difference is that fear is a response to a real and current danger, while anxiety is the anticipation of a potential threat that may or may not occur in the future.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), almost 7 million American adults experience generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Individuals who struggle with GAD worry excessively when there is little or no reason to worry, and often have trouble concentrating, relaxing, or controlling their worrisome thoughts. Their anxiety may manifest in physical symptoms, such as unexplained aches and pains or trouble sleeping. Just getting through the day can produce a high level of anxiety.

What's Normal?

So how do you recognize if your anxiety is normal or cause for concern?

Three factors help distinguish between normal, adaptive anxiety and abnormal, pathological anxiety: duration, intensity, and frequency. If your anxiety is ongoing, occurs frequently, or is unusually intense, you probably should seek professional help. Put more simply, if anxiety interferes in your daily functioning and causes you distress, it's time to consider help.

Mental health experts treat anxiety with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Helpguide.org encourages individuals to also implement self-help strategies to manage excessive anxiety. For example, write down your worries and create a worrying period when you are free to focus on your concerns. Accept that uncertainty is inevitable. Take good care of yourself: incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine, eat a healthy diet, reduce alcohol and nicotine consumption, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.


National Institute of Mental Health. "Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control." Web. 2010. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/gad-trifold.pdf

National Institute of Mental Health. "Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)." Web. 7 July 2009. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.shtml

Smith,  Melinda, M.A., Robinson, Lawrence, and Segal, Jeanne, Ph.D. "Anxiety Attacks and Anxiety Disorders." HelpGuide.org. Web. July 2012.


Schulze, Autumn, MA, LMFT. "Anxiety: What's Normal and What's a Problem." GroffandAssociates.com. Web. 23 June 2011. http://groffandassociates.com/anxiety-whats-normal-and-whats-a-problem/

Jacofsky, Matthew D., Psy.D., Santos, Melanie T., Psy.D., Khemlani-Patel, Sony, Ph.D. and Neziroglu, Fugen, Ph.D. "Normal and Abnormal Anxiety: What's the Difference?" Betty Hardwick Center. Web. http://www.bhcmhmr.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=38464&cn=1