Are you anxious or do you have anxiety?

The terms anxious and anxiety are closely connected, yet in the 21stcentury have come to mean different things. While the Oxford Dictionary defines both as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”, if you Google the term anxiety you get a completely different search result compared with searching for the term anxious.


What does anxiety mean?

The word origin for both words comes from the Latin, “anxius” meaning to be uneasy. While this is almost identical to the modern English “anxious”, its meaning in every day usage is completely different. Anxious, has remained the same for years, being used as originally intended, to describe a state of unease or worry. Anxiety however, has now been adopted by the medical profession as a diagnostic label for a serious mental health condition.


What is anxiety in terms of mental health?

Anxiety, as defined by the NHS, is a feeling of anxiousness over a long period of time. The symptoms associated with this condition are uncontrollable worrying that may cause upset to daily life, inability to let go of worries, difficulty sleeping, tense muscles, irritability, shaking, nausea, just to name a few. It’s fairly easy then to see the vast difference between this condition and the technical definition of “a feeling of unease”.


It’s just a word; why does it matter?

There are many words in the English language that mean two things but are spelt the same way, for example lie, to tell an untruth and lie, to recline. So why is it not the case in this situation? Why can’t the term anxiety be one word with two meanings? The problem lies in the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Currently, many people who face mental health issues feel they are battling against a society that does not understand what they are going through. Too many times are the phrases ‘Just try to be happier” or “Everyone gets a little bit down sometimes” passed around. It’s within these phrases that the problem lies. Indiscriminate use of the term anxiety, for example “(something) gave me anxiety”, when a person is simply feeling uneasy, has the effect of minimising the real symptoms experienced by those suffering from the mental health condition.



How can word choice help?

The same argument can be used for many other mental health conditions such as depression, OCD and PTSD where these terms have been adopted into common usage with entirely different meanings. By making these small changes in how we speak, we could show greater consideration towards people dealing with mental health issues and make them feel more supported during what is often such an isolated and lonely time. By changing the way we speak, we can also change the way that mental health is perceived. It is in these changes that the future lies. If even one person benefits from your choice to alter your words, then that’s another step in the direction of a more accepting, loving world.

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