Anxiety: How Much Is Too Much?

Differentiating Between Normal and Excessive Anxiety

Pensive young woman sitting on a bed

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Anxiety is a physical and mental state that's totally natural for everyone to experience at different points in time. After all, it's a state with an adaptive and protective purpose.

Sometimes, however, worry can take on a life of its own. If anxiety is starting to hurt you rather than help you, if it’s difficult to control or making it nearly impossible to cope, it’s time to step back and evaluate the extent of the problem.

Problematic Anxiety Symptoms

The point at which worry and anxiety become an issue is somewhat subjective, though there are several different markers of severity and intensity that you might use to evaluate how reasonable or unreasonable your level of anxiety is.

This might be hard to judge from inside the experience, but to start, trying stepping back and asking yourself questions such as:

  • Am I frequently blowing things out of proportion, even though it doesn't feel like I am ​at the moment?
  • Am I frequently distracted by thoughts of what will go wrong in certain situations?
  • Do I avoid activities that I might actually enjoy because of a looming feeling of dread?
  • Do I constantly feel on edge or amped up, even in the absence of a clear source of worry?
  • Is it hurting my performance in school or at work?
  • Is my anxiety hurting my relationships?

If the answers to any of these questions give you pause, or if you're finding them tough to answer, consider asking someone you trust about their perception of your anxiety and how it impacts your life.

Getting Help for Anxiety

If you think your worry has gotten out of hand, an expert opinion can help to further clarify this. Meeting with a clinician—a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist—can help you to determine if your anxiety issue can be classified as a disorder, and, if so, which one.

Clinicians will use diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders to determine whether or not your anxiety is excessive. This typically involves ​an assessment of how persistent your anxiety is, what types of symptoms you experience, how long they last, and how intrusive they are on your ability to get through life on a day-to-day basis.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Discussion Guide

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Diagnosing an Anxiety Disorder

Diagnosis of an anxiety disorder can be tricky. Many symptoms of various anxiety disorders overlap with one another, and it might take some time to tease out the primary problem. While some might have specific phobias others may have generalized anxiety disorder, otherwise known as GAD.

Also, some people struggle with more than one type of anxiety disorder. Others can exhibit a number of significant symptoms, but not quite enough symptoms to meet the strict criteria for a given diagnosis. If this happens, you might be told that you have a “sub-threshold” anxiety disorder.

Even if your anxiety is of the low-grade variety or doesn't meet the threshold for a firm diagnosis, that doesn't mean it’s not worth working on. In fact, from a practical perspective, it’s most important to pay attention to how anxiety interferes with your life, no matter how it manifests. A clinician can help you narrow down what’s wrong or identify helpful interventions, even if they are unable to determine a specific label for the problem.

Figuring Out Next Steps

Speaking with a physician or a mental health provider who knows you is the best way to figure out your next steps. Depending on the nature and extent of your anxiety, you may find one or a combination of a number of approaches useful.

Mild or intermittent anxiety may improve when you use strategies such as:

  • Exercise: Increased daily activity or implementation of an exercise routine
  • Relaxation techniques: Regular use of relaxation strategies
  • Self-help resources: Such as books, smartphone apps, and online resources that walk you through a series of exercises related to your anxiety
  • Talk therapy: Any of a number of talk therapies

For moderate to severe anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the psychotherapy of choice with an encouraging evidence base to support its use. There are also medications that can help with persistent anxiety of any degree.

Finding a Mental Health Provider

To find a qualified clinician, check out referral resources including Psychology Today, The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, or The Anxiety and Depression Association.

Or, speak with your current physician about seeking a psychiatric evaluation with a recommended mental health provider. For additional resources on mental health, check out the American Psychiatric Association (APA) blog.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(9):617-624.

  2. Haller H, Cramer H, Lauche R, et al. The prevalence and burden of subthreshold generalized anxiety disorder: A systematic reviewBMC Psychiatry. 2014;14:128 doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-128

  3. Borza L. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for generalized anxietyDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):203–208.

By Deborah R. Glasofer, PhD
Deborah Glasofer, PhD is a professor of clinical psychology and practitioner of cognitive behavioral therapy.