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The differences between being worried and having anxiety

Everyone worries or feels anxious from time to time. Anxiety is a normal and expected feeling to have in certain circumstances. It's our body's way of telling us that something's wrong, to help us focus and to take action to deal with the source of our stress.

So how do you know if what you're experiencing is everyday worry, some anxiety or possibly an anxiety disorder? One of the main things to look out for, according to Greer Slyfield Cook, social worker and therapist in the Women's College Hospital (WCH) mental health program, is when it becomes unhelpful and starts to impact your life in a negative way.

Thoughts vs. body

"One of the differences between experiencing everyday worry and having anxiety is that worry is more of a cognitive experience – typically inside your head alone – whereas anxiety has three components: cognitive, emotional, and physiological,” says Slyfield Cook.

Along with the thoughts in your head, anxiety can include emotional aspects (eg. fear, guilt, sadness) and physiological responses (eg. racing heart, upset stomach, tight chest).

Fact vs. belief

"With everyday worry, you might have a fact that's related to it and it can motivate you think of solutions or actions to the problem,” says Slyfield Cook.

Anxiety is more nebulous and vague. It may be a general belief that something is wrong that plagues you. "You might not be able to put a finger on what it is, you might not have any facts related to it and it might be hard to think about solutions how to manage it.”

Temporary vs. persistent

"Everyday worry tends to be situation-specific and temporary; taking action or problem solving can resolve your worry or make you feel better,” says Slyfield Cook. "Anxiety, on the other hand, is long-standing, persistent and can feel difficult to control.”

Impact on life

Everyday worry is often not very intense and alone usually doesn't interfere with your functioning. Anxiety tends to be a much more intense experience and can have an impact on various aspects of your life, for example sleep, appetite, relationships, work, social life and more.

If you think you might have anxiety, are struggling with some of the symptoms, or if you're unsure, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider who will be able to help you.

Stress is a normal human experience, and Slyfield Cook suggests these tips to help you manage your everyday worry or stress:

1. Check in with yourself

"Stop, take in a few mindful breaths, and take a moment to ask yourself – how am I feeling at this moment? What's on my mind?” says Slyfield Cook. "Practicing this throughout the day helps you increase your awareness of what's actually contributing to the stress you're feeling, which can help you manage it.”

2. Focus on the present

Focus on today and the present moment. Bringing yourself into the moment can help you make a conscious choice about what to do next.

"Ask yourself – what is in my control, and what's not? If what's on your mind is about yesterday or tomorrow, it's not within your control to manage. Focus what's in your control – that is, today and the present moment,” says Slyfield Cook.

3. Ask for help or delegate

"Asking for help both at work and in your personal life can be hard for people,” says Slyfield Cook. "But ask yourself – what is the cost of me not asking for help or not delegating this? And whether not delegating or asking for help is actually contributing to your stress.”


This information is provided by Women's College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: December 14, 2018.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital