Worry is a normal part of the human daily experience. Did I remember to lock the front door when I left this morning? I hope my presentation goes well tomorrow. What if people make fun of my new haircut? Sometimes, worry can go beyond these everyday experiences and become a disruptive force in our lives. The line between worry and clinical anxiety is not always clear. It’s often difficult to determine when worry isn’t just worry, especially when we’re looking at someone else, like a child or friend. Take Wanda for example. Wanda is a worrier. Wanda’s parents aren’t sure if it’s just Wanda being a worrier or if there could be more significant anxiety issues. Let’s walk through five questions that Wanda’s parents can ask to help determine if Wanda’s worrying might actually be clinical anxiety.
Here are five questions to help determine if someone is dealing with more serious clinical anxiety issues.
- Does worry lead to disruption of her primary role?
When frequent worrying causes disruption in a job, school, or family responsibilities it can be an indicator of anxiety. Normal worry can be annoying and uncomfortable but usually does not interrupt important tasks. Is Wanda usually a B-C student but has been getting Cs, Ds, and even an F lately? Does she avoid activities with her peers that she usually enjoys due to worry? Does Wanda struggle in her job due to fears about what her coworkers or supervisor think about her?
- Is frequent coaxing or consoling needed for participation in everyday activities?
It’s fairly common for all people to occasionally need some encouragement or have faltering motivation. If Wanda doesn’t want to go to school the day of her algebra test, it might just be worry. However, if Wanda needs talked into getting on the bus multiple times a week due to worry, it could be an indicator of anxiety. Needing frequent coaxing or consoling is often an indicator that anxiety is complicating activities that would otherwise be manageable.
- Is she easily distressed?
It’s normal for people to feel overwhelmed when stressors pile up. Each stressor is like a rock that we are handed. Eventually, the weight of these stressors can become too much. When anxiety is involved, it can act as a multiplier of stressors. If Wanda is struggling to handle what appears to be a manageable amount of stressors, it might be because she is already holding the boulder of anxiety.
- Does she use somatic complaints to avoid potentially stressful situations?
“My head hurts; I can’t go to practice today.” “I went to the nurse’s office during math because my stomach was hurting again.” When people are dealing with anxiety issues, mental stress can be experienced in physical ways. If Wanda is experiencing physical symptoms that can’t be explained by other conditions, anxiety could be a factor.
- Does worry cause her to enter fight, flight or freeze?
Sometimes, worry can be a motivator. At healthy levels, worrying about a test can lead to increased studying and focus. Worrying about winning a race can motivate me to run faster. I’m worried I hurt my friend so I start a difficult conversation. However, anxiety usually has the effect of pushing us away from goal directed behavior, commonly seen as fight, flight, or freeze. Does Wanda become verbally aggressive when talked to about her grades? Does she run from uncomfortable situations with peers? As the result of worry, does Wanda start or continue arguments at home? Any of these can be indicators of anxiety.
Worry is a common part of the human experience that can help to motivate and change us in powerful ways. When we reach the point of anxiety, we often are pushed away from, rather than toward our goals. By asking these questions of Wanda, her parents can determine if additional interventions or resources could be helpful. As with any list on the internet, this is not meant to be your sole source of information to diagnose anxiety disorders. If you know a Wanda, beginning a conversation with them about anxiety can help to break down the isolation that often helps anxiety to grow. When it’s not just worry anymore, reaching out to a professional can begin the process of better managing anxiety.