Healthy and Unhealthy Anxiety

Doctor Daniel Pine explains that it can be normal and healthy to feel anxiety. Anxiety disorders, however, interfere with people’s ability to function normally.

Well, so when we talk about many behaviors that can be both normal and abnormal, it is very important to differentiate those two different kinds of behaviors. We can talk about anxiety that is normal which means that it is a response to a certain kind of danger and we can talk about anxiety that is abnormal or part of what we call an anxiety disorder. The difference between anxiety that is normal and anxiety that is abnormal relates to the degree to which anxiety facilitates adaptive functioning or helps people to be healthy versus the degree to which anxiety is harmful or hinders their ability to develop and adapt to their environments. So, for example, let’s think about a college student who has to take a test. Everybody would get a little anxious about a test and it is probably a good thing. The kid who is a little anxious might study a little bit more and might do better on the test and so that would be normal anxiety. However, some kids will get so anxious about the test that they cannot think about anything else. They cannot even get their minds straight enough to study for the test. So there, the anxiety might actually interfere with the kid’s ability to perform on the test and that would be an example of an anxiety disorder because the anxiety is so extreme that it interferes with adaptation and interferes with coping. That is how we differentiate normal or healthy anxiety from abnormal anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders interfere with people’s ability to adapt and their ability to function in ways that most other people can.

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