How to tell the difference between feeling routine anxiety and having an anxiety disorder, according to a psychotherapist

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  • Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, mental strength coach, and international bestselling author.
  • She explains that while everyone experiences anxiety in moderation, if the frequency or severity of your anxiety seriously affects your daily routine, you may have an anxiety disorder.
  • Morin says that if your anxiety prevents you from attending social gatherings, makes it difficult to maintain a relationship, or interferes with your ability to sleep, it may be time to seek professional help.

Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion. When you experience it in moderation — and at appropriate times — it can be good for you.

But high levels of anxiety at the wrong times can interfere with your quality of life. And this is how mental health professionals differentiate between normal anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Helpful anxiety alarms

Anxiety is meant to keep you safe. It’s your brain’s way of alerting your body that you’re in danger and need to spring into action.

If you encounter a hungry lion, your anxiety should kick in and change your heart rate and breathing so you can run faster. Your survival will depend on your ability to get away. In this case, anxiety prepares your body to perform better.

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