As a psychoanalyst I do not find there are distinct differences between worry and anxiety. In my book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way, I point out that a state of worry gives way to anxiety. Worry is defined as a state of anxiety over actual or potential problems. If we try to separate out the two worry is a lesser amount of anxiety over some problem that when it increases and one becomes preoccupied with that worry we can definitely call it anxiety. That is, worry can become obsessive which is anxiety bound. Anxiety is a state of mind or mental condition that reflects concern that may be real or undue concern or an overreaction to something that is disturbing a person. If we look for 8 differences they could be the following:
1. Worry is temporary and brief.
2. Worry is realistic concern about a situation such as a child touching a hot stove.
3. Worry does not escalate rapidly. It refers to something that can be taken care of quickly.
4. Anxiety is generally more prolonged.
5. Anxiety can cause breathing problems with shallow breaths as one becomes more anxious.
6. Anxiety can take different forms such as separation anxiety, obsessive compulsive anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, generalized anxiety or free floating anxiety and panic attacks.
7. Anxiety when prolonged can lead to depression.
8. Anxiety requires professional help when it is prolonged whereas worry may not unless it is obsessive.
In conclusion, I would say anxiety and worry have become interchangeable because worry is usually not brief and does lead to anxiety. Each could be considered to be on a spectrum of increasing distress. A last difference may be that when someone worries another person can reassure them quickly and permanently whereas an anxious person also seeks reassurance but then needs that reassurance again within a short time. Furthermore, anxiety can be treated with medication whereas worry if it is incidental wouldn’t be considered a reasonable cause for medication.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and award winning author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way, and The Busy Parents Guide to Managing Anger in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way. For further articles on anxiety go to my website: lauriehollmanphd.com.