Many people use the terms “stressed” and “anxious” interchangeably. But, just like claiming to be “OCD” is the new thing, claiming to be stressed or anxious when you’re not exactly experiencing anxiety, is also insensitive and shows lack of understanding for those who are truly suffering from an anxiety disorder.
What are the key differences between stress and anxiety?
Stress is a response to a stressor, or anything that causes the release of the stress hormone. It is usually time limited.
Anxiety is a stress that continues after the stressor is gone. Maybe even for no apparent reason.
Stress can come from any situation that makes you feel angry, frustrated, nervous. It varies from person to person.
Anxiety is a constant fear, constant feelings of uneasiness, impending doom, unsettlement. The cause is not always easy to find, which can then contribute to the anxiety you’re already experiencing.
Stress causes increased heart rate, palpitations, anxiety, crying, changes in eating habits. The feelings aren’t as severe as when experiencing excessively anxiety.
Anxiety causes that “fight or flight” response – your adrenaline increases as you try to figure out whether to stay in the situation or get the heck out of it! You heart rate increases, you may have shortness of breath, sweaty palms, a pit in your stomach.
The main difference between them is that stress is a response to a threatening situation, while anxiety is a reaction to that stress.
Anxiety is a constant, needless worry that can be brought on by seemingly anything. “What if my car skids while I’m driving?” “What if I get hurt going to the grocery store?” These thoughts tend to spin out of control as you play the “what if” anxiety game. It’s not a fun game to play, but someone dealing with excessive anxiety has no control – they are an unwilling participant in the game of “what if.” And, there’s no end in site. Not only are anxiety sufferers playing this game they don’t want to play, but they’re experiencing physical symptoms, as well, that nothing seems to alleviate.
Stress, on the other hand, is limited to an isolated incident. Whether it be a work event/project, a bill, having too much on your plate at once, once the stressor has been resolved, the stress and associated negative feelings tend to go with it. So, you can experience similar physical symptoms as someone suffering from anxiety, but they’ll go away once you get a handle on those stressors in front of you.
Dealing with stress or anxiety is difficult! It will help to first decide if what you’re dealing with is stress OR anxiety (or a stress-induced anxiety). Exercise is the greatest form of therapy for either ailment. Moving your body puts that negative energy you’ve got stored up to good use. It provides mental clarity and acts as a distraction. Meditation, whether in the form of deep breathing, yoga, or a more formal guided meditation, can also be extremely helpful. Practicing Mindfulness helps get you out of your head and into the here and now so you can grab your stress better and deal with it more effectively.
Anxiety, on the other hand, might take a little more work. While some of the exercises listed above could be extremely helpful, you might need a little more help. Talking to someone about your anxieties, whether it be a therapist, a friend, a spouse, can help tremendously. Mental Health Professionals can use a number of treatment modalities to help you build a toolbox full of coping skills while trying to attack the cause of your anxiety. Getting support and feeling supported when dealing with your anxiety is one of the best ways to deal with it. For more severe cases, a visit to a psychiatrist, who can educate you on the benefits of psychtropic medications, can be helpful.
No matter whether you’re dealing with stress or anxiety, there are ways you can be helped! You are not alone – nearly 40 MILLION Americans are dealing with Anxiety and over 50 percent of people report feeling stressed about something (money, work, family). These numbers are staggering and only continuing to grow. There is a multitude of qualified professionals willing to help you through it. Take a moment, find someone who seems to be a good match, and make an appointment. You have the power to get well. Why waste your time and energy being anxious or stressed?