The difference between ‘normal’ anxiety and a disorder


There are a number of different anxiety disorders, each with a distinct collection of symptoms. However, the most common symptoms often include:

  • overwhelming emotion

  • excessive / persistent worry

  • insomnia

  • sweating

  • dizziness

  • shaking / trembling

  • increased or irregular heartbeat

  • muscle pain / tension

  • feeling on edge

  • inability to relax

  • being easily startled

  • back pain / irritable bowel syndrome (I.B.S)

  • restlessness and fatigue

  • avoidance of certain situations

It is important to recognise that any of these symptoms listed above can be experienced by any ‘normal and healthy’ person at some point in their life. If you have experienced any or all of the above list [at some point in your life] it does not necessarily mean that you definitely have an anxiety disorder. For example, if you go through a period when you find it hard to sleep, it doesn’t automatically mean that you have an anxiety disorder.

To understand the difference between ‘normal’ anxiety and an actual anxiety disorder, here are some differences:


  • Concerns over if you will be able to pay the bills, get the promotion or job you want, experience a relationship break-up or another important life event.

  • A case of nervousness or sweating prior to doing an exam, a public presentation or some other specific and significant life event.

  • Appropriate levels of apprehension and/or fear of a dangerous object, place, person or situation.

  • A reasonable level of emotional response after a significant or traumatic life event, which passes after a few minutes or hours (max.).

  • Low level occasional feelings of nervousness surrounding certain social situations, which does not stop you from doing the activity.


  • Persistent and irrational compulsion to worry about almost anything and everything, to the point that it causes such high levels of stress and interferes with everyday life.

  • Unexpected sudden panic or intense fear for no reason and/or living with the constant worry you will be overcome by anxiety in the future.

  • Irrational fear or avoidance of an object, place, person or situation that poses little genuine threat or danger.

  • An inappropriately high level of emotional reaction after a significant or traumatic life event, which takes days or weeks to pass.

  • Avoidance of a number of social situations due to a significant fear of being judged, embarrassed or being overwhelmed by anxiety.

Having read the symptoms along with the lists describing the differences between ‘normal’ anxiety and anxiety disorders, would you say you need to learn ways to manage ‘normal’ levels of anxiety or do you need help with an anxiety disorder? When considering this, aim to remain as objective as possible and base your decision on how you’ve felt and behaved most often. The trap with these kinds of ‘tests’ is that we can often relate to the worst case scenario, when in reality you may only experience them occasionally and to a less extreme extent.


For cases of ‘normal’ anxiety, I recommend exploring the other Anxiety Free resources on my website and inside my Calm Clan. I offer a range of ways to cultivate the mindset required for coping with and overcoming these anxiety symptoms - both on your own and with support of the online mentoring and resources within my Calm Clan. You may also want to immediately consider one of my Mentoring options for more tailored and personal solutions for coping better and experiencing more consistent calm.

For cases of an anxiety disorder, I recommend you consult your doctor and seek out professional one-to-one support. This is because there may be more subtle mental and physical causes that you can benefit from discovering and resolving. For the record, there is nothing to be ashamed of here and an anxiety disorder is of equal importance as any of the more ‘classical’ health conditions that you may work with a doctor on.

I know people who have got their head above water with anxiety medication, for example, and then gone on to treat the underlying causes when they are in a better headspace. Using an integrative holistic health strategy like this can be a very smart and effective solution.

Having gone from having crippling anxiety to come out of other side to live with consistent calm and confidence, I want you to know there is hope and there are solutions to your symptoms. Always remember: peace is possible and if you take action now you can soon look back on the anxiety as a distant memory!


Want to learn more? The insights shared in this article are taught in the Mind Calm Coach and Calmologist courses.

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Article by Sandy C. Newbigging

Sandy is the founder of the Calm Academy and creator of Mind Calm, Body Calm, Calm Cure and Mind Detox techniques - collectively known as Calmology. He’s a meditation teacher, monk and multi-bestselling author.