AM I STRESSED OR ANXIOUS? WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRESS, ANXIETY, AND AN ANXIETY DISORDER?
- Aug 17, 2021
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Stress vs. anxiety. Knowing the difference, their symptoms, and when to get professional help
We all experience some degree of stress and anxiety in our lives. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t!
Stress and anxiety are normal, natural reactions that are meant to keep us safe from harm. When they become chronic and excessive, however, these reactions are no longer useful. Rather, they can have a truly debilitating effect on our mental, emotional and physical health.
So, what’s the difference between healthy stress, unhealthy stress, anxiety, and an anxiety disorder? How to tell if we can manage our anxiety symptoms on our own or if we should get help from a mental health professional? Read through to the end for our answers to these important questions!
Are stress and anxiety the same thing?
Stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably, but are they actually the same?
Both are part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response to a real or perceived threat. This bodily reaction kicks us into survival mode; stress hormones cause our heart to beat faster so it can pump more blood into our body.
Some people react more intensely or frequently to stressors than others. These stressors can be anything external, like pressure to perform at work or school, financial difficulties, a major life change, grief or trauma, etc. Not all forms of stress are necessarily bad; stress can be a great motivator to push us to focus and accomplish our tasks! But when stress persists, it can slowly overwhelm our nervous system, causing pain, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, period changes, weight fluctuations, isolation, depression, and even some forms of physical ailments like heart disease.
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of dread, fear, worry or nervousness that is more of an INTERNAL reaction, contrary to stress, which is a response to EXTERNAL pressures. In a way, anxiety is our response to stress. When we’re feeling stressed, we can usually pinpoint what we’re stressed about, and our symptoms subside once the stressful situation is over. Anxiety tends to linger, and it may not be easy to figure out a specific trigger. It is more of an out-of-proportion reaction of general distress. In more severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S. and Canada.
What are symptoms of anxiety?
Symptoms of stress and anxiety overlap because of their effect on the body, though stress is more short-term and contained. Recognizing anxiety symptoms is a crucial step for anxiety management.
Pay attention to:
-Excessive worrying that is difficult to control
-Difficulty concentrating on daily tasks
-Feeling agitated (racing or irregular heartbeat, sweaty palms, shaky hands, dry mouth)
-Restlessness - feeling on edge, hyperactive or hyperalert
-Becoming easily fatigued
-Feelings dread and fear of threats that either haven’t happened or don’t exist
How can I manage my anxiety symptoms?
When caught early, anxiety symptoms may be effectively managed with relaxation strategies and coping mechanisms.
Here are 12 tips to keep your anxiety symptoms in check:
-Accept that you can’t control everything
-Remember that perfection doesn’t exist
-Practice self-awareness and learn to identify what triggers your anxiety
-Limit caffeine, alcohol and smoking
-Eat well balanced meals
-Eat more probiotics and fermented foods
-Get enough sleep and be sure to relax before bedtime
-Exercise regularly, like doing yoga
-Practice mindfulness meditation
-Breathe more consciously and deeply
-Journal about your feelings and thoughts
-Talk about your feelings with a friend, partner, family member, or co-worker you trust
How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder or just anxiety?
If a certain degree of anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, how to recognize if it’s a mental health issue that warrants medical attention?
You may have an anxiety disorder if:
-You feel anxious on most days, for a prolonged period of time (e.g. 6 months)
-Your anxiety symptoms become excessive and larger than the stressors that triggered them
-Your anxiety symptoms begin to interfere with your everyday life
-You are using drugs or alcohol to deal with anxious thoughts or feelings
-You have irrational fears
-You experience a change in sleeping, eating, or hygiene habits
-Your mood has been at a prolonged low
-You avoid social situations
-You experience panic attacks
-You think of harming yourself or ending your life
There are several clinical types of anxiety disorders, for example generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When should I get help?
No matter how long you’ve been experiencing your symptoms, if you ever feel like your anxious thoughts or feelings are interfering with your daily functioning, it’s time to get professional help from a doctor or mental health practitioner.
Psychologists and psychiatrists are professionally trained and licensed to treat anxiety disorders in different ways, either through cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medications, natural relaxation therapies, or a combination of these treatment strategies.
There is absolutely no shame in seeking help and working with a mental health professional. Asking for help will allow you to tackle and manage your anxiety symptoms quickly and safely before they take over your life.
Stress is a common trigger for anxiety, and it’s almost impossible not to feel stress in our hectic modern-day lives! But it’s important to catch anxiety symptoms early to prevent them from developing into an anxiety disorder.
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Did you find this post helpful? What’s your favorite strategy for dealing with symptoms of stress and anxiety? Leave us a comment and share this post with your friends! Destigmatizing mental health is why we exist! We’re rooting for you.
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