Remember that major test in school you weren’t prepared for? Or the nerves that rattled you as you heard the news on that big promotion? Stress and anxiety are very common parts of people’s lives. We have all experienced them at one point or another, we all handle them differently, and most of us throw both terms about as if they are interchangeable. They’re not. Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety can be the first step towards relieving yourself of either one.
Is It Stress or Is It Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety symptoms can be somewhat similar: both can leave you tense and give you a pounding heart or a nervous stomach. However, identifying whether your problem is caused by stress or anxiety can be done by considering a few simple points:
- Is there a recognizable cause? Stress is tied to a specific item, place, person, or situation whereas anxiety has no identifiable root. This is also what makes it a legitimate mental disorder.
- How long has it affected you? Since stress is tied to something specific, the removal of that thing typically eliminates the stress. Stress could last for as short a time as a day or a week. Anxiety symptoms, on the other hand, must occur for at least six months before the condition can be diagnosed as such.
- How has it affected your life? While stress can negatively impact someone’s life, it doesn’t have as much long-term effect as anxiety can. In fact, those who suffer from anxiety often find elements of their everyday life changing as they struggle to cope with their condition.
But when does "normal anxiety" morph into an anxiety disorder? Normal anxiety occurs in realistic situations. For example, being embarrassed in a social gathering may make you nervous about doing something embarassing at other events so when you are in another social setting, your anxiety spikes and you act more reserved.
Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, trigger unrealistic avoidance responses that alter how you conduct your everyday life. In this case, being embarrassed in a social gathering may make you totally avoid any kind of social gathering, which would dramatically impact your life. And, even though avoiding the situations that make you anxious can provide short term relief, the anxiety keeps coming back and can expand from the initial event to other situations.
The most important thing to remember about stress, anxiety, or anxiety disorders, however, is that they do have one thing in common: there is help available to resolve them.
If you are wondering "is it stress or is it anxiety?", we can help! Contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. You can reach us by calling 561-496-1094 or by emailing Dr. Rosen and The Center today.