The Difference Between 'Natural' Anxiety and a Mental Illness


Anxiety feels different for everyone. For many people, it’s a natural part of life — the quickening of your pulse when your child won’t pick up his cell phone; the beating in your ears when curfew comes and goes and he doesn’t appear. The apprehension in your stomach with every moment of silence. And then: the relief and anger that floods you when he finally appears, whole and unharmed. Anxiety dissipated. That is “normal.”

Then there is the other anxiety: the waking up with a start at 2 a.m., certain your child is dead in his bed. Not being able to breathe until you have checked his respirations and pulse for yourself three times. The feeling of doom in the morning, like you know something terrible is going to happen today, something life-altering and horrific but you don’t know what. The feeling that persists and won’t go away, no relief, like a pit in your stomach, a hole in your very being. What if this time, you get into a car accident? Maybe today, you will lose someone you love. Or maybe you’ll die. The feeling of nervous apprehension, of waiting. Nothing ever happens … or something does. It doesn’t go away.

Sometimes it’s different. Sometimes, it’s that pervasive feeling of forgetting something, like when you pack for a trip, you’re on the road and you just know you’ve forgotten something but you don’t know what. It’s feeling like something is missing, maybe something you never had. Like longing for someone you never knew, or a place you’ve never been. Friends you have yet to make. The feeling of not belonging anywhere, that maybe you never will. It’s doubt — maybe they’ll leave you. You’ll have no one. You aren’t good enough for them. That’s why. What if they just won’t tell you?

Anxiety is different for everyone. For some, it’s part of the normal trajectory of life. It should be that and nothing more. Anxiety is a part of life. It should not be taking over your life. No one should have to live with anxiety so severe, it is disrupting life. Live life, not anxiety. Fight it, treat it. No, it’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Volodina


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Anxiety

anxious worried woman looking at phone while sitting near trees

Why I Don't Call You: What It's Like Having Telephone Anxiety

With the introduction of email, social media and texting, the practice of talking on the phone has sort of phased out. We would rather send a quick five-word message than be tied up on the phone discussing everything that has happened recently. Of course, there will always be those phone people who are always calling [...]

Gina Rodriguez's Thoughts Looking at Herself Might Sound Familiar If You Have Anxiety

Everyone wants to look good in photos, but “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez knows how much living with anxiety can change the way you look at yourself. In a “Ten Second Portrait” filmed by Anton Soggiu, Rodriguez stands, makeup free in a jacket and Yankees cap, smiling into the camera. “I suffer from anxiety,” Rodriguez [...]

Why It Felt Like Chyler Leigh From 'Supergirl' Understood My Struggle With Anxiety

On April 27, I pushed through my anxiety. I went by myself from Connecticut to Brooklyn, New York, for a concert. I didn’t know what to wear, which train station would be the easiest and when I’d get back in the morning. All of those thoughts were exhausting. After I took a train to Grand [...]
young woman staring out of public transport window looking pensive or anxious

Why I Feel Like I Have No Right to My Anxiety

“I have anxiety.” It took me a long time to say that phrase but it comes moderately easy to me now. But “I have an anxiety disorder” is a different matter altogether. You see, I have high-functioning anxiety, and one thing I’ve noticed in other Mighty articles is that those of us who function well [...]