Ein Mann liegt mit dem Kopf auf seinem Schreibtisch und macht sich Sorge.

Worry or anxiety: what is the difference?


The feeling of fear is part of our lives. It serves as a signal for danger. Among 15% of the population, this natural reaction gets derailed and turns into an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is often unrecognised or misperceived as worry. What is the difference between being worried and being anxious then? Can you separate the two states? Are you worried you might have an anxiety disorder? In this article, we will illustrate 10 differences between worry and anxiety.

Worry and anxiety are not the same

In everyday use, the terms worry and anxiety are often used synonymously. For example: “I am worried about you getting seriously injured while skiing”. Or: “I am anxious about you getting seriously injured while skiing.” The two phrases appear to say the same thing, yet they do not, at least not to psychologists and psychiatrists. The mental states behind them are very different: although both are associated with feelings of agitation and concern, there is a distinct discrepancy in how worry and anxiety are perceived, with implications for emotional and mental health.

10 differences between worrying and being anxious

Eine Frau sitzt vor dem Laptop und macht sich Sorge.

1. Worrying is rather physical, anxiety is mostly mental

Worries are caused by very specific thoughts in your head. Anxiety, on the other hand, is far more instinctual. You feel it in your whole body.

2. Worry is rather specific, anxiety is less clear

Worrying focuses on a particular concern. For instance, you may be worried about getting to the airport on time because your taxi is stuck in traffic. In other words, there is a specific threat: “I’m going to miss my flight.” Anxiety, on the other hand, is more general and diffuse. For example, you may be anxious about traveling. Anxiety does not focus on a specific threat: it gives you a general feeling of discomfort instead.

3. Worry can be clearly defined, anxiety includes verbal thoughts and mental images

Highly emotional images in one’s mind and anxiety-inducing thought patterns have a much stronger effect on the cardiovascular system than purely verbal thoughts and worries. This is also one of the substantial reasons why anxiety is perceived throughout your whole body, and worry is not.

Ein Mann sitzt vor dem Laptop und macht sich Sorge.

4. Worrying helps solve problems, being anxious does not

Worrying can help you find a solution to a problem: it allows you to scan your mind for strategies to resolve a situation. Anxiety is a different matter: thoughts spin incessantly in your head and block your ability to find a productive solution.

5. Worry causes slight emotional strain, anxiety can cause serious emotional stress

Anxiety takes over your body, putting it under strain, and can set you in a difficult emotional state of constant agitation. Worry does not have this power.

6. Worries arise from more realistic fears than anxieties

When you worry, you have a specific reason for it. For example, you may be worried about failing an exam because you didn’t study. On the other hand, if you fear that you failed the exam because the examiner won’t look at you the next day on campus, this falls under the term anxiety. Just because they don’t look at you doesn’t mean you failed the exam.

7. Worries are easier to control, anxiety significantly less so

Eine Familie sitzt auf der Couch und meditiert für weniger Sorge.

Worry is usually easier to control because you can focus on finding a solution to the problem you worry about. By doing this, you feel better and the worries become smaller. Anxiety is different: as problem-solving skills are reduced, you find it harder to focus on solutions to moderate anxiety. It is, therefore, more difficult to control it.

8. Worries are temporary, anxiety is persistent

As already mentioned, you usually find a solution to your worries. Thanks to the solution, worries disappear. Anxiety, however, is more persistent and can affect you for a longer time. Moreover, it can be generalised: you can be steadily anxious. Sometimes the anxiety can be generally focused on your health, sometimes on work, sometimes on your children, and so on, without a specific cause or motivation.

9. Worries still allow you to function, anxiety paralyses you

When you worry, you are still able to go on with your daily life. Yes, you may be worried about what the biopsy of your birthmark will show, but you can still be functional in your daily tasks. Anxiety, on the contrary, paralyses you reducing your ability to concentrate and making you feel stressed about the little things.

Eine junge Frau steht kritisch vor ihrem Handy und nimmt sich auf. -Sorge

10. Anxiety can be a mental disorder, whereas worry is not

As mentioned at the beginning, fear can be a life-saving feeling. However, when this feeling becomes independent, putting at risk your entire life, it can evolve into a mental disorder. Psychotherapy, then – with or without medication – would be, in this case, a necessary tool to enjoy a better quality of life again.

Your Humanoo Team