The Difference Between Worry and Anxiety

How can you tell if your poor mental health is worry or anxiety? When might you or your child need to see a mental health professional?

When does worry become anxiety? When might you or your child need to see a mental health professional?

“Worries arise on a daily basis and respond to what cognitive psychologists call “grounding statements,” explains Dr. Juli Fraga. For instance, if you’re worried about your child’s social development and a trusted professional’s reassurance helps you feel better, you’re experiencing a worry.


  • Worries arise on daily basis
  • Worries respond well to “grounding statements”
  • Speaking to a professional or trusted confidant can reassure you

“Anxiety puts the brain on another channel, so to speak, which activates the limbic system,” Dr. Fraga says. The limbic system lets the rest of your body know you’re facing extreme stress, and can make you feel physically sick. If your worry comes with signs of physical distress like an upset stomach, insomnia, racing heart, you’re most likely feeling anxious.

These feelings may also not respond to grounding statements. According to Fraga, when the body fears danger (even if the danger is not real), it’s hard to feel comforted by reassurance. Anxiety often comes with signs of physical distress: upset stomach, insomnia, and/or a racing heart. Grounding statements might make you feel worse.

How to manage anxiety
“In moments of anxiety, your nervous system needs to relax. Researchers say you can help yourself relax with a stimulus change,” she explains. A stimulus change, or an sensory activity that can help you soothe your anxiety, may include:

  • Pausing to take 5 minutes of quiet by yourself
  • Breathing in deeply 5 times
  • Taking a warm shower
  • Going for a walk or getting fresh air
  • Placing your hand on something ice cold
  • Receiving a tight hug from a partner or friend.

Once your body is in a more relaxed state, using psychological distancing can help you gain perspective. Psychological distancing means considering your situation with a new perspective. It can help uncover new solutions to the stresses you’re facing.

Finding a new perspective

  • Pretend a friend comes to you with the same dilemma. What advice would you give them?
  • Set a timer on your phone for 20 seconds. Repeat your worry out loud in a silly voice or sing it to the tune of Happy Birthday, or another fun song. How do you feel now?

If you’re still having trouble managing your feelings of anxiety, reach out to a mental health professional.

Cleo members can message their Cleo Guide to help find the support that’s right for their family, and prepare for these discussions.