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Stress or Anxiety? 4 Ways To Tell Them Apart

Stress and anxiety are the result of physiological responses triggered by hormones in your brain. What is the goal? Protecting you. They are reflexive survival mechanisms, and it is important to remember that they are mandated by the constantly evolving brain.

“Ugh, I’m so stressed out from watching that movie! I need a vacation!”

How often do you hear such statements?

Words from the mental health dictionary such as “stress” have steadily crept into everyday vocabulary. It is definitely a welcome change for mental health awareness, which strives to un-peel itself from the stigma associated with it.

However, such change demands that you exercise due diligence with sensitive subjects.

It is vital that you are able to distinguish between stress and anxiety, words that are often used interchangeably, in order to understand them better for yourself and for friends or family who might need some direction.

Stress and anxiety result from physiological responses triggered by hormones in your brain. So what is the goal? Protecting you. They are reflexive survival mechanisms, and it is important to remember that they are an inherent part of the constantly evolving brain.

The first element to highlight in this conversation is that stress and anxiety are not categorically bad in all contexts. In other words, humans would have succumbed to predators millions of years ago but for these instantaneous responses.

With that said, let’s look at four ways to distinguish them for better understanding.

1.  Perceived Threat

Stress is, almost always, the result of an existing threat or challenge — a looming project deadline or a competitive exam. When you know you have to confront a reality that could cost you something, your heart starts to pound, your breathing becomes rapid, and your palms get sweaty. This is a perfectly normal response, which can sometimes get you excited to prove your mettle.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is often a reaction to stress. It is a persistent feeling of restlessness, worry and discomfort. The ambiguity and the overarching nature of symptoms could make it difficult to pinpoint the threat’s presence or nature. It is accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, digestive difficulties, insomnia, and even heart disease.

2.  Classification

According to the American Psychological Association, stress can be classified into three types based on duration of symptoms–acute, episodic acute and chronic stress.

Anxiety disorders are more complex and are classified depending on the type of trigger — generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, etc.

3.  Type of Threat

Only a real, tangible and external threat can produce the stress response in your body — deadlines, due dates or a sudden change. This is the most effective way to identify and label your symptoms.

Repeated exposure – for instance, on a day-to-day basis – to such threats can lead to chronic stress. Chronic stress can sometimes push you to make irrational, inconclusive judgements about your ability to handle future stressful situations.

That would result in anxiety, a persistent feeling of incompetence and impending failure regardless of the type of challenge presented. Anxiety clouds your judgment, and you end up always anticipating the worst possible outcome. For instance, you may not have an upcoming exam, but you still believe that you would fail if you did.

As is evident, the threat is internal in this case. Anxiety occurs due to the accumulation of negative thoughts regarding your ability to overcome life’s obstacles, all while gauging your abilities against your peers’.

4. Recovery

With acute stress, the symptoms are short-lived, and they disappear with the stressor. For instance, once you’ve completed the exam, your brain stops producing the stress hormones, and your body returns to its normal functioning.

However, the road to recovery from anxiety can be long and winding. It can demand a reprogramming of your internal beliefs. You may work with professionals to unlearn counterintuitive judgments of yourself and your ability to function effectively in society. In some cases, your psychiatrist may even prescribe medications to better manage your symptoms.

Does Nomenclature Really Matter?

If you’re experiencing restlessness, sleep deprivation, difficulty breathing, indigestion, palpitations or any other symptom that directly affects your day to day functioning and quality of life, it really doesn’t matter what it’s called, does it?

We strongly recommend that you seek professional help immediately. Medical care will alleviate symptoms and therapy will empower you with strategies to cope with stress and anxiety going forward.

At Prairie Health, we understand that the last thing you want to be doing is stressing about already being stressed!

That’s why we are here to walk alongside you and relieve you of any stress associated with your recovery process.

Interested in learning more about anxiety? Check out our article on 7 natural remedies for anxiety or here are 5 self-help books for your fight against anxiety and depression.

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Mon Nov 30 2020

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