Anxiety and worry; what is the difference?

People often use the terms ‘worry’ and ‘anxiety’ interchangeably, but they are very different psychological states. Although both are associated with a general sense of concern and disquiet, how we experience them and the implications they have for our emotional and psychological health are quite distinct.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders where 30 per cent of humans are destined to be seriously impaired by anxiety, according to


Justine Mukamwezi, a local counsellor, explains anxiety as an extreme and rather long-term version of worry. Anxiety is, most of the time, inherent but can also be developed eventually by living conditions. She explains how anxiety differs from worry.


Worry often triggers problem-solving but anxiety does not.


Worry can lead to solutions and strategies for dealing with a given situation. Anxiety is more like a hamster wheel that spins us around but doesn’t lead to productive solutions.

“Everyone is worried about something. When you are worried, your brain develops a defensive mechanism to cope with worrying. This makes worry a brief reaction to a current situation,” Mukamwezi says. “Anxiety lasts for weeks and months and we have very little control over it.”

Worry tends to be controllable, anxiety much less so.

By problem-solving and thinking through strategies to deal with the cause of worry, one can diminish it greatly. We have much less control over our anxiety, as it is much harder to “talk ourselves out of it.”

Mukamwezi advises that the most efficient way to manage anxiety is to find someone to talk to, a professional counsellor or anyone comfortable to talk to.

“When you talk to others, you explore ways to get rid of your anxiety and discover that it is a shared experience and nothing to panic about,” she explains.

Worry is caused by more realistic concerns than anxiety.

Mukamwezi gives an example on how unrealistic anxiety can be: “If you are concerned about getting fired because you performed poorly on a project, you are worried. If you are concerned that you will get fired because your boss did not ask for your opinion in a meeting, you are anxious.”

Phobias are other common forms of anxiety. Subjects of phobia, such as insects or non-defensive animals, often show how unrealistic anxiety can be.

While worry can be a brief concern that vanishes, Mukamwezi says that it takes six months to decide that what might have started as worry has turned into a mental disorder — anxiety.

Anxiety disorder has symptoms that can be extreme, such as heart attack, panic attack, high blood pressure and stroke.

The best way to manage anxiety levels is to see counsellors, but most importantly, get enough sleep, eat healthy and work out.

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