Differentiating between Normal and Troublesome Anxiety

By Graham C. Davey, Kate Cavanagh, Fergal Jones, Lydia Turner, Adrian Whittington

Part of Managing Anxiety with CBT For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

Anxiety is a normal and, in fact, helpful emotion. Everyone experiences it sometimes. At the right level anxiety can help you to focus and perform well. But it can become a problem if it persists beyond its usefulness in a situation.

Remember the following points about anxiety:

  • Anxiety is a normal process that everyone experiences, but it can cause problems when it persists or becomes excessive.

  • Anxiety causes body sensations such as faster breath, an increase in heart rate, sweating, and feelings of dizziness, among many others. Bodily sensations caused by anxiety can’t harm you.

  • Anxiety can lead to you overestimating the risk of danger and underestimating your ability to cope.

  • Things that you might do because you think they keep you safe (safety behaviours) sometimes make your anxiety worse.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy can help reduce your anxiety by helping you re-evaluate your thoughts and changing your behaviour.

In its most troublesome forms, anxiety can lead to:

  • A debilitating fear of or desire to avoid some specific object or event that doesn’t pose a significant danger to you.

  • Regular but unpredictable panic attacks where you experience palpitations, sweating, trembling, dizziness and feelings of losing control.

  • Chronic, distressing and uncontrollable bouts of worrying.

  • Regular intrusive or obsessive thoughts that you find disturbing.

  • Compulsive or ritualistic behaviours that you believe are necessary to prevent you from feeling anxious or to help you avoid bad things happening.