Are you feeling stressed out? - So is everyone else on the planet. However, if you’re feeling anxious – then that’s an entirely different situation altogether. So, do you know how to spot the difference between being stressed or anxious?
What is stress?
Stressful occasions happen on an everyday basis no matter where you live in the world. Stressful situations are just part of dealing with life – it’s a biological response to your current environment and the challenges that face you.
When we're stressed, our body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol induces the “fight-or-flight” response that we’ve all felt before at some stage. The degree of the hormonal response depends on the contributing conditions of the environment around us.
For example, you drive into work, and someone cuts you off in traffic. Your initial stress response is to feel slightly angry at the other driver's lack of etiquette on the road.
Dealing with stress doesn’t have to be a big deal. Using our example, all you need to do to eliminate the anger is sit at your desk in the office and sip on a cup of tea. By lunchtime, you won’t even remember the morning's traffic digressions.
Stress also has a positive reward as well, and it’s part of the reason why humans have been around as long as we have.
For example; you’re walking back from a friend’s house, and someone attempts to mug you. You notice the awkward behaviour of the prospective mugger, and your body floods with a blend of adrenaline and cortisol.
You choose to run home and avoid the muggers as a result of your stress response to the potentially dangerous situation. In this case, stress may have saved your life.
What is anxiety?
Feelings of anxiety are far different from what we’ve described in our previous examples. The reason for that is that they’re two completely different things. As we’ve already discussed, stress is a physical response to an environmental stimulus.
However, anxiety is a mental illness that develops from overexposure to stressful situations, especially those with an adverse outcome.
While stress is part of life that we should learn to live with, anxiety disorders are a serious health concern.
Currently, the CDC estimates more than 40-million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder - that’s a vast segment of the population dealing with this form of mental illness.
Anxiety can ruin your life if you let it have its way with you. For example; you arrive at the office after your initial run-in with the inconsiderate driver in our previous stress example. As you enter the door dreaming of that cup of tea that’s going to calm your nerves, you run into your boss, and he’s upset with you.
He informs you that he’s tired of you always arriving late, and decides to fire you. The shock of the situation takes a few hours to settle in properly. When you’re at home a few hours later, all of a sudden a wave of physical symptoms overcomes you.
Your heart rate increases and begins to thud in your chest. You feel lightheaded as you get off the couch and you notice sudden shortness of breath.
You return to your seat on the couch to catch your breath, and as you sit down, you suddenly feel overwhelmed by the morning's events. All the questions of life come crashing down, and you feel a sense of dread about your future that’s not going away anytime soon.
You burst into tears and begin to feel uncertain about your immediate health and your long-term future.
Do you understand the difference?
If you still don’t have a proper understanding of the difference between feeling stressed or anxious, and you’re concerned about it, speak to your health professional for more guidance on the subject.