3 Subtle, Yet Critical Differences About Healthy Vs Unhealthy Anxiety

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It isn’t always easy to discriminate healthy vs. unhealthy anxiety. If you find yourself feeling stressed out about the status of the world we’re living in, you’re not alone. Close to 40 million Americans live with some form of anxiety in their lives. And while those numbers may seem high, most therapists agree that anxiety is not only treatable, but can actually enhance your life when thought about positively.

Research continues to shed light on the news that not all forms of anxiety are actually bad for you. In fact, by learning how to leverage your anxious thoughts, you can use anxiety as a driver towards success and future growth.

But to understand if what you’re feeling is healthy vs unhealthy anxiety, you need to dig into it a little deeper to what’s underneath it and how it is affecting your life. From there it’s possible to work with your anxious thoughts so they become a positive form of stress in your life.

Below is a healthy vs unhealthy litmus test for you to consider. In your own assessment, ask yourself the following questions.


#1: How Much Are Your Anxious Feelings Affecting Your Life?

To begin, ask yourself what role your anxious feelings are playing in your life. Do you find that your anxiety is hijacking your thinking, making it impossible to focus on other things or to pay attention to areas of your life that need you? For example, can you put your worry aside to get things like grocery shopping, work or house cleaning done? Can you spend time with friends or your family without it interfering in your mood? Or does it stay top of mind for you even when you’re busy doing things you enjoy?

Anxiety, like most DSM5 diagnoses, exists on a continuum. Too much of it seems to swing the pendulum out of balance. In this area, the amount of influence it has over your life is the critical element in evaluating if it’s healthy or unhealthy overall.


#2: How Do You Think About Your Anxiety?

As we dig deeper into the impact anxiety has on your life, the way you think about it is genuinely important. Truthfully, we all have to face stress in our lives. No one, it seems, is immune to it. Yet, the categorical difference between people who have a healthy relationship with anxiety are those who have a more problematic view seems to be less about the amount of stress you’re facing, but what you do with the stress you must manage.

People who view anxiety and stress as a normal part of life appear to bounce back from stressful times more easily than those who worry about their worries.

In other words, people who have a resilient attitude around stress, seeing it as a natural part of life are less affected by the fear that the stressors won’t go away or lessen. Fearing anxiety tends to cause it to grow. This is the experience of stressing about what has caused you stress instead of dealing with it and getting on with life.

In this arena, the research is clear: the more you worry about your anxiety, the harder it is to manage. If you want a healthier view on your anxiety, it’s critical that you find a way to not get lost in the fear that the hard times will never pass or that things will never get better. By focusing on what is out of your control, you surrender your ability to step into solutions. This quicksand of thought is a sign that the anxiety you’re feeling is of the unhealthy variety.


#3 How Do You Handle Your Anxious Feelings?

For many, this is the part of the discussion that seems the most obvious, and yet to keep it in perspective, how you handle your feelings has to be viewed through the lens of the first two items on this list. Because even the healthiest behaviors may not be enough if you can’t stop thinking negatively about your stress.

What you do with your anxious feelings matters. When you let your worries become something that keeps you paralyzed or stuck, that is the tell-tale sign that you need someone supportive in your corner to help you out of this place.

But, if you’re someone who uses your anxiety as a motivator; leveraging it as a sign that you have work to do to allay your fears, then you’re back in the driver’s seat and that can help reduce your anxious feelings.

People who have healthy anxiety do not allow their worries to stop them from living. Yes, they may feel deeply concerned about the people they love or the world around them, but ultimately, anxiety is seen as a motivator. It’s a sign to do something to resolve a problem or find greater peace-of-mind. Not a sign to stop and dig in.

Ultimately, these three things: how your anxiety affects your life, what you think about anxiety and ultimately, what you do with your anxious feelings determine if you have healthy vs. unhealthy anxiety.

By understanding how your feelings either motivate or de-motivate you, you can look a little deeper and see what can be done to adjust your thinking so you are in greater control over your life. The bottom line for many people is that living with anxiety is just a part of life. But how you think about it is incredibly important so you don’t let it stop you from living.


For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out my anxiety blog, download my free ebook, or sign up for my newsletter.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD