What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Trauma?

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Every person experiences anxiety at times. Feeling anxious before a big event, during a stressful time at work, or amidst a big life change is normal. It can be a useful motivator that encourages you to take action, whether studying for a big test or putting your best foot forward on a first date.

However, sometimes anxiety is a sign of a bigger problem. Anxiety that persists after the anticipated event occurs, arises with no external cause, or severely disrupts daily life isn’t normal. If you experience chronic anxiety with little relief, you may be dealing with something like an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can also be a symptom of other conditions like trauma. These disorders can sometimes appear similar because of their shared symptoms, but some important distinctions exist. What is the difference between anxiety and trauma?

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling characterized by frantic or nervous thoughts, tension, and physical symptoms like increased heart rate. Severe anxiety that affects a person’s ability to cope with and manage daily life is the primary symptom of anxiety disorders. An estimated 1 in 5 people in the United States experienced an anxiety disorder in the last year.1 There are a few different kinds of anxiety disorders. including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and panic disorder.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is the psychological and physical response to an unexpected and shocking, scary, or dangerous event. These include events such as assault, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, car accidents, or the sudden death of a loved one. Trauma responses can arise immediately after the event, or they may be delayed.2

After a traumatic event, people typically experience:

  • Feeling sad, angry, or anxious
  • Troubles focusing or remembering things
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Intrusive thoughts about the event

These are normal, expected responses to a traumatic event. Most people work through these responses and return to normal life afterward. Sometimes these responses are prolonged and cause ongoing interruptions to daily life. Trauma responses that persist may develop into a more serious condition called post-traumatic stress disorder.

How Are Anxiety and Trauma Different?

While the two are similar, there is a primary difference between anxiety and trauma. While someone with trauma will almost always experience anxiety as a symptom, not everyone with anxiety has experienced trauma. A wide range of disorders can cause anxiety; it isn’t limited strictly to trauma. However, someone who went through a traumatic event is almost guaranteed to have some feelings of anxiety after it happens.

Finding Treatment for Trauma and Anxiety

Someone who experienced trauma will benefit from a slightly different approach than someone learning to manage an anxiety disorder unrelated to trauma. This means effective mental health treatment requires clinicians to understand the source of the symptoms. Uncovering the underlying causes of anxiety is an important part of providing informed care.

Treatment programs like Pasadena Villa are dedicated to helping clients find and maintain recovery from mental health disorders. We take an individualized approach with each person who reaches out for help to ensure you receive the best care possible. If you’re struggling with anxiety, trauma, or another mental health disorder, please call us today at 407-574-5190 to find out more about our programs and how we can help!



  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Any Anxiety Disorder.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Coping With Traumatic Events.



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