The Difference Between Anxiety and Stress
A lot of people use the terms “anxiety” and “stress” interchangeably, but they aren’t the same. Both are feelings that are normal and that we all experience sometimes, but both can also become paralyzing if we don’t cope with them in healthy ways.
For most people, stress comes and goes and can even be a healthy experience, one that motivates us to achieve. Anxiety may come and go as well, but it can also be a sign of an underlying disorder. How can you tell the difference and how do you know when you need to ask for help?
Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a feeling of being worried, nervous and uneasy, and in typical scenarios it rears its head when you have some upcoming event about which you feel uncertain. For example, you might have to give a speech and you’re not sure if you’ll do well, or you have a test to take and you think there’s a chance you could do poorly on it. These are normal experiences of anxiety. We all feel them when there is something coming in the future with an uncertain outcome.
An anxiety disorder goes beyond normal feelings of anxiety and is characterized by anxious feelings with no real uncertain event to blame. You just feel anxious all the time, and you don’t know why. Other signs that you have an anxiety disorder include feeling like your worrying is out of control or that your anxiety is taking over your life and causing negative consequences. Anxiety disorders can be more specific too and include having panic attacks, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Stress is also a normal experience, and it often goes together with anxiety. Stress is always caused by something you can identify. It is a tension related to some type of demanding circumstance. Think about that speech you have to give. It is causing you stress, which makes you feel anxious.
To feel stressed about something that’s important and has an uncertain outcome is normal. For that stress to give you anxious feelings is also normal. A big difference between this kind of stress-anxiety relationship and an anxiety disorder is that there’s an identifiable origin for the stress and subsequent anxiety. You know what is making you feel this way.
Stress isn’t just a normal human experience, it’s also a positive one. If we never felt stressed, we would never be motivated to do well or to achieve something. Stress pushes us to be active and to get things done. Stress becomes unhealthy when it’s chronic and constant or when you can’t cope with the resulting anxiety and the feelings only get worse. Stress is bad when, instead of motivating you, it paralyzes you with fear and anxiety.
When to Get Help
If you feel stressed out all the time, there are a few things you can do. First, recognize what’s causing the stress and do what you can to change it. Maybe you need to take on fewer responsibilities. You can also learn techniques for relaxation, like meditation or exercise.
When your stress causes you anxiety that goes beyond what’s normal and what you feel like you can control, you may need professional help. Other signs you need help are if you can’t identify what’s making you feel anxious and when your feelings of anxiety persist no matter what you do. Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health conditions. Therapy and medication help many people overcome the debilitating feelings of anxiety.