Worrying vs anxiety: What’s the difference?

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Health Assured team

05 April 2024

Anxiety and worry are frequently used interchangeably, often causing confusion and leading to self-misdiagnosis and people not understanding the differences. Both are closely related, stemming from fear and stress, affecting the mind and body in similar ways. Despite these similarities anxiety and worry are two different mental states and it’s important to be able to know the distinctions.

What is worrying?

With the pressures of today’s climate, it’s completely normal to feel moderate levels of worry. It can even be a great motivator.

Worry is feeling overly careful, concerned, and uneasy about a situation or challenge. It can be difficult to forget about a worry, clouding a person’s thoughts. However, the problem causing the worry will be clearly solvable with the individual understanding the problem and solution, such as being concerned about a test and studying for that test.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety, or generalised anxiety disorder, is an intense feeling of being concerned, stressed, and nervous that takes over the mind and body.

People who suffer with anxiety usually have repeated and ongoing anxiety that they cannot control. People with anxiety often suffer physical symptoms, such as nausea, panic attacks, raised heartbeat, and dizziness.

Everyone can feel a sense of anxiety from time to time and at any point in their life, but if you experience anxiety symptoms regularly it would be advised to speak to a GP.


What the difference between worrying and anxiety?

Although both worry and anxiety come from a general state of concern and fear, both are different, causing different symptoms, feelings, and treatments.

1. Physical symptoms

A large difference between worrying and anxiety is the physical symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety often manifests physically in the body, for example increased heart rate, tense muscles, headaches, sweating, and even in severe cases panic attacks.

Worrying can take over the mind and negatively affect the person’s mood, but worrying often does not cause physical symptoms and stays within the mind.

2. Understanding of the problem

When a person worries, they usually have an understand of how to solve the problem or at the very least they will know why they feel concerned, for example felling nervous about catching Covid-19, the flu, or if you have an upcoming presentation for work.

On the other hand, anxiety is vague and much more generalized. A person with anxiety may not know why they feel anxious or how to alleviate the problem, such as having anxiety may mean that you have an impending sense of doom without an understood reason.

3. Catastrophic thinking

Worry is grounded with logical thoughts and actions. If you worry, you will have a sense of what the problem is and how difficult it is to solve.

Yet, people who suffer from anxiety often catastrophize things, such as believing you will never find love if your partner leaves you.

Catastrophic thinking occurs when a person distorts outcomes to an extreme reality, which is likely not true, for instance thinking you will be fired from work after taking one sick day. Anxiety can be all consuming, exhausting, and difficult to cope with, making the original problem worse in most cases, and keeping the anxious person in the ‘fight or flight’ state.

4. Length of concern

Worry is temporary and short lived. It encourages motivation and understanding of the problem, meaning the individual is better equipped to address and solve their fears and concerns. A person may worry about their house not being tidy, urging them to clean or someone could worry about an exam, encouraging them to study.

Anxiety is slightly different, seeping into the psyche, prolonging the discomfort and concern. This makes it difficult to understand the problem, delaying solutions, and prolonging the anxiety.

5. Negatively weaken function and ability

Worrying should not affect your daily life to the point where you cannot cope. Worrying affects a person for a short period of time and it will eventually clear in the mind, making space for daily life routines.

Anxiety inhibits someone’s ability to function and do everyday tasks, such as work, exercise, and routine activities.

It can even affect a person’s ability to form and keep good relationships with partners, family, friends, and colleagues. Someone who is anxious may find it difficult to express their needs to people, making it difficult to hold onto healthy relationships. Extreme nervousness and self-consciousness can deter anxious people away from social situations, making it harder to connect with people.


What do I do if I'm worrying excessively?

If you find yourself worrying excessively you may want to speak to your GP about your symptoms. They will discuss what support is on offer to you, guide you through the process, and discuss any worries you may have.

Keep in mind that worrying is a problem when it impacts your ability to live a full life. You may want to speak to your GP if you find it difficult to make good connections with people, you experience physical anxiety symptoms, or you relate to any of the above anxiety signs and triggers.

Support your employees with an EAP 

With a Health Assured Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), we can offer you practical advice and support when it comes to dealing with workplace stress and anxiety issues.

Our EAP service provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and at home. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support your employees' mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.


Find out more about EAPs


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