When Does Anxiety Become a Disorder?

​Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some points in their life, whether it is their first day of work, in the moments before giving a presentation to a large group of people, or just if their workload becomes too high to cope with. However, there is a point when levels of anxiety become abnormal, and can be an indicator of a disorder. 

General Anxiety Disorder affects around 15% of the UK’s population, and can have severe implications for an individual’s general functioning, particularly at work.

There are a variety of factors that indicate when an individual’s anxiety may have become a disorder. These are some to look out for:

  1. Constant anxiety, even in non-dangerous situations
  2. A disrupted social and work life
  3. An inability to function well and relax, which is manifested in difficulty concentrating and irritability
  4. Restlessness
  5. Frequent illness and absence from work

Anxiety occurs as a result of a normal biological reaction in our bodies, called the fight-or-flight response. This is the internal process that the body goes through when preparing a response to a difficult or stressful situation, and is how our body makes the decision to confront the situation, or run away from it. During the process, large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream, resulting in us perceiving everything in the surrounding environment to be a threat. An anxiety disorder occurs when an individual has an overactive fight-or-flight response, resulting in them perceiving non-threats to be threatening.

Anxiety disorders are often successfully treated through therapy or medication, particularly to those disorders that are identified early on. However, according to statistics presented by Anxiety UK, whilst 25% of cases of General Anxiety Disorder occur in individuals aged over 50, only a third of them receive treatment. In understanding when anxiety is abnormal, we can ensure that all sufferers are getting the help they need, before their symptoms manifest themselves in ways that could be harmful. For example, individuals with anxiety disorders tend to avoid all situations in which they may feel vulnerable, potentially resulting in them neglecting work commitments. Furthermore, their anxiety may have an effect on their social skills and abilities to maintain relationships with colleagues and customers.


If you want to find out more about how you can prevent, identify and tackle anxiety disorders within your organisation, then check out our Identifying and Managing stress course.

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Birmingham, studying MSci Psychology and Psychological Practice. I am interested in helping individuals with mental health illnesses, and improving the quality of life for those who are suffering with a mental illness.​

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