What’s the Difference between Natural and Excessive Anxiety?

Even the most serene, laid-back people may experience anxiety from time to time. It’s a natural emotion that can be helpful when it’s warranted. But there’s a big difference between the typical anxiety people experience during stressful situations and the high-level, ongoing anxiety that can interfere with your overall quality of life.

When Anxiety Works for You

A certain level of anxiety, including driving anxiety, is simply your body’s way of keeping you safe. Your brain lets your body know that you need to be ready to take action if the situation merits it. For instance, you may feel some driving anxiety when you are moving through a busy intersection, or perhaps driving at night in the rain. Anxiety tells you to be extra cautious as the situation may be dangerous.

It’s also typical to get a surge of anxiety or panic when you’re about to speak in front of a crowd, or your boss unexpectedly calls you into their office. Even though you may not be in any physical danger in such situations, your brain is automatically alerting your body that there are risks involved.

Public speaking relates to social risk, while boss conversations can automatically stir up potential financial risks. This type of anxiety can still be helpful for increasing your awareness and performance by ensuring you’re paying careful attention to your behaviors in either situation.

When Anxiety Works Against You

High levels of unhelpful anxiety tend to work against you. Maybe you’re fraught with driving anxiety while simply sitting behind the wheel of a car parked in the driveway – or perhaps while sitting at home in the kitchen. Anxiety may get intense and frequent enough to interfere with your ability to stay focused, productive and at peace.

Some people find work-arounds, such as relying on other people to drive them around if they have severe driving anxiety. While this may provide the opportunity to avoid the situation that produces high anxiety, it doesn’t make the anxiety go away. It’s still there, limiting your abilities to take part in and enjoy your life.

Signs Your Anxiety is Working Against You

A number of signs can help you determine if anxiety is impacting your quality of life. That may be the case if your anxiety makes you:

  • Miss work
  • Stay away from group calls, situations, activities
  • Have difficulty with relationships
  • Find little enjoyment in daily activities
  • Struggle to focus, concentrate or relax
  • Obsess about things
  • Unsure about making decisions, even simple ones
  • Carry every situation to its worst case scenario in your mind
  • Have trouble sleeping

If your levels of anxiety is interfering with your ability to enjoy your life, it may have crossed the line from typical anxiety to anxiety you’ll want to address. You can find a number of potential solutions in our post about Fighting Anxiety and Depression. No matter how long you’ve lived with ongoing driving fears and other anxiety, you may be able to change the course going forward.