Tanya Ruckstuhl Valenti, LICSW

Anxieties - Phobias

“If Your Own Mind is Lying to You, You Need Another Opinion”
By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW

What is the difference between occasionally feeling anxious and an anxiety disorder or phobia? We all get anxious once a while: public speaking, going on a first date, interviewing for a job, taking a test; all of these things are common anxiety producing events

The difference between normal and abnormal or clinical anxiety is threefold:


  1. Frequency and duration: typical anxiety is occasional, not frequent. It normally occurs around “first times” when engaging in new behaviors, such as the ones listed above. It does not last beyond the initial experience and is not relived in anxiety-producing memories. For typical anxiety, when the “first time” experience is over, the feeling of anxiety is over.
  2. Causally Connected: Normal anxiety has some logical basis to it, as in “I am afraid of failing this test and if I fail this test I can’t get the job I want.” Normal anxiety responds—and decreases—in response to thinking through the alternatives and ways to alleviate the feared outcome, as in “if I fail the test I will need to study harder and take it again in three months. It will be a disappointment and inconvenient, but it will not be the end of the world.”
  3. Life-Interference level: normal anxiety may give a person pause and the occasional pounding heart, but it does not prevent them from pursuing their goals. Abnormal or clinical anxiety is a bully: it blocks opportunities such as work, leisure, romance, travel, and wellbeing of the sufferer. Abnormal anxiety lies, making the sufferer believe “I can’t” instead of “this is tough and it will take some work to get through.”

This definition applies to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), agoraphobia (fear of leaving a specific and familiar area such as home or neighborhood), as well as to many more specific anxieties such as fear of flying, social anxiety, or any of the myriad of phobias that people have endured.


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