Anxiety and Stress
Stress and anxiety are connected. Here’s how to tell the difference between them and manage both.
What is Stress?
Everybody feels stressed out sometimes. Think about how you feel when you have a big test, when your parents are fighting, or when you’re waiting for that text back. Stress happens when you’re under pressure or doing a difficult task. Physical responses to stress include: Shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, tense muscles, and a queasy feeling.
The Truth About Anxiety
Stress is usually temporary and connected to what’s happening in your life, while anxiety is a (very common) mental health issue. When you’re stressed, you usually have some idea of what you’re stressed about. With anxiety, however, you can experience all the same signs of stress in your body and mind without knowing why or how it started. Feelings of anxiety can continue long after a stressful event has passed, or can show up without any core reason.
About 18 percent of adults experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder, which usually starts in adolescence. Have you ever felt an intense fear that lasted a long time? That’s how some people describe anxiety. Anxiety can show up as extreme worry. Examples of worry can be general, free-floating, uneasy feelings or specific concerns. Specific concerns of someone’s anxiety might be wondering about the safety of your family and friends, your schoolwork, or even the state of the world.
Anxiety makes you feel on edge and can get in the way of your daily life. Basically, when you experience anxiety, your body is having a natural reaction (sometimes called fight or flight) to a danger that may not actually be about to happen.
When Should I Seek Help?
A little bit of anxiety or stress can actually be positive. Hear us out – our body can use stress as a motivator. Think about how alert and focused you feel when you’re stressed about a presentation. That focus can help lead you to be prepared to perform well. Anxiety can become a problem, however, when it takes up too much of your thoughts and time. Find yourself late for school because of panic or being unable to sleep because of worry? Then it may be time to seek help.
Anxiety disorders affect people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups. No one is exactly sure what causes someone to develop an anxiety disorder. Often, an anxiety disorder can arise from a mix of genetic brain chemistry, stressful life circumstances, and painful events. For example, if someone grows up in an unsafe home or violent environment, they may develop anxiety that stays with them even when their environment changes. However, people with a variety of experiences and circumstances (even those in safe and healthy environments) can develop anxiety issues with no clear cause.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three major types of anxiety disorders, all of which are extremely common and very treatable mental health conditions. These disorders can co-exist with each other, as well as with other mental health conditions like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when people experience excessive anxiety and worry. Muscle tension, sleep issues, and trouble concentrating are all symptoms. For example, someone with this disorder might “spiral out” when the phone rings by imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios. Another example? Intense worry when their parents are late coming home.
Panic Disorder describes people who experience panic attacks. These are periods of sudden and strong anxiety that include physical symptoms like a fast heart rate and struggle to breathe. Panic attacks can feel really scary, and can come on without much warning.
Social Anxiety Disorder involves a fear of rejection in social situations. Sometimes people with social anxiety feel nauseous. Many people feel a little anxious when making a phone call or getting ready for a party where they don’t know many people. People with Social Anxiety Disorder might feel so nervous in these scenarios that they avoid social situations so that they don’t have to feel anxious.
What Can I Do?
Anxiety can make life feel overwhelming and out-of-control. The good news? There are many options for treating anxiety that can make you feel better. If you notice that you’re feeling anxious for a continued period of time, speak to your medical provider.
Your medical provider can help you figure out if your symptoms are anxiety or another medical condition. Some symptoms of anxiety are the same symptoms of other medical conditions, like thyroid and blood sugar issues. A medical provider can also help you begin to treat your anxiety.
Therapy and Treatment
Treatment looks different for everyone – meeting with trusted professionals is essential to finding what works for you. If you’re facing anxiety, seeing a therapist can help you figure out the best ways to manage your symptoms.
A therapist can diagnose which type of anxiety disorder you have and help come up with solutions that are the best fit for you. Here are some types of therapy to consider:
- Talk Therapy involves discussions with a therapist. In talk therapy, you can also explore any issues (like family history) that could be contributing to your anxiety. With a therapist you can also learn how to cope with tough stuff by finding solutions to problems and talking things through.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a specific kind of treatment where you learn coping skills and techniques specific to anxiety. CBT can help someone change the way they view themselves and their lives.
Everyone can benefit from therapy. Therapy can help you notice ways you act and think that aren’t healthy, so that you can adjust your thoughts and behavior and feel your best.
Taking medication can be extremely effective to relieve the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. There are several types of medication that can treat anxiety. Here are two:
- SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Zoloft and Lexapro are examples of SSRIs. SSRIs are typically taken every day within a given time period as decided by your doctor.
- Benzodiazepines are medicines that you can take on an as-needed, short-term basis, like when you feel a panic attack coming on. Examples of benzodiazepines are Ativan and Xanax.
Research shows that medication is most effective when it’s used in combination with other forms of healing, like talk therapy. If you think that medication might be helpful for you, discuss your symptoms with a medical provider.
Taking Care of Yourself
When you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder or other mental illnesses, it can feel especially hard to take care of yourself. That said, eating healthfully, getting a good night’s sleep, and moving your body every day, in combination with therapy and/or medication, can help to manage your symptoms. Establishing and maintaining self-care routines, even when you’re struggling, can make a real difference in how you’re feeling.
Unfortunately, mental health issues and other “invisible” illnesses can be treated very differently than physical illnesses. Culturally, there is an idea that the power of positive thinking can help heal mental health conditions, but this is incorrect. Let’s say you broke your leg. No one would tell you that it would heal if you just think positively. Mental health conditions are still highly misunderstood, full of false judgments and can even be perceived as shameful (even though it is far from it).
Damaging ideas (like that people suffering from anxiety are weak and can just “get over it”) might be one reason why only one third of people suffering from an anxiety disorder seek treatment. The truth is anxiety disorders are very common and very treatable —you’re not alone, and you’re not doomed. It takes strength to live with anxiety and to reach out for help.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.