Anxiety: what is it?

Mental Health   ›   Stress and anxiety  ›   Anxiety: what is it?

Anxiety and stress are two overwhelming feelings that you may experience from time to time. They are normal physical reactions to force you to take action. However, when anxiety takes over your life and you feel it too often, you may have what is called an anxiety disorder. Find out what it is and what you can do about it.

Anxiety is the tendency to create stress for yourself, to exaggerate it or be scared of it right from the very first signs. For example, starting high school may make you anxious: what if you don’t make any friends?


Stress, is a physical reaction by your body that is perfectly normal. In fact, stress is essential! That’s what gives you the energy to study for your exam or the motivation to pass your driving test. But if it builds up, it can affect you…


Everybody gets anxious from time to time, for example before an exam or during a sports competition. Anxiety can even save your life by getting you out of a dangerous situation. For example, it’s totally normal to feel anxious and have all your senses on the alert when you walk down a dark alley! In daily life, anxiety might mean being scared that you’ll never be able to get the job of your dreams… when in reality, you just got one bad grade on a high school test!


Luckily, normal anxiety (and the related stress) disappears as soon as life returns to normal.


However, if the anxiety continues, you feel a high level of distress, you can’t clearly identify the reasons, it constantly fills your thoughts, and it has a negative impact on various areas of your life, you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.


What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder when it doesn’t disappear once life goes back to normal, when it causes serious distress, when it appears for no good reason, when it permanently preoccupies the person, and when it prevents the person from functioning normally.


Anxiety disorders may be accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms (fatigue, headaches, nausea, a feeling of suffocation, excessive sweating, chills, shakes, numbness, high blood pressure, digestive problems, etc.) and psychological symptoms (difficulty concentrating, worries).


Most common anxiety disorders



What to do if you think you have an anxiety disorder

If you experience the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, consult a health care professional, who can confirm your disorder (diagnose it) and then guide you to the right resources or necessary treatment. Specialized organizations also exist for each of the disorders, and they can give you support and guidance on how best to cope with your disorder.

Myriam nous parle de son anxiété [French only]

Alice Morel-Michaud on Anxiety [French only]