Stress and anxiety can have a significant impact on physical and mental health; however, they don’t necessarily affect everyone the same way. It is important to understand that while stress and anxiety can be connected, they are not the same. Anxiety can occur without a specific cause, such as a perceived threat or the anticipation of events or situations. Stress, on the other hand, can be caused by short-term or long-term events such as driving in traffic, meeting a deadline at work, financial issues. Let’s look at both in more detail.
What is stress?
The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as how the body and the brain responds to demands or stressors such as work, school, traumatic events, family, or finances.
There are a few things to note about stress:
- Stress affects us all. At some point, we all have stress and some cope more effectively and more quickly than others. Stressors may be one time or an occurrence that continues over time.
- Stress is not all bad. Stress can serve as a motivator for some, think about taking a test. It also helps prepare our bodies to face a threat or flee to safety. As our body goes into survival mode, our pulse quickens, muscles tense, and our brain uses more oxygen.
- Stress can be harmful.Chronic or long-term stress can negatively affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Long-term stressors are often constant but harder to notice because our body has no signal to return to normal, which over time can lead to issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious illnesses.
- Stress is manageable. Stress can build up but there are practical steps that can be taken to alleviate negative effects. Learning to manage stress can lead to overall improved well-being.
Many experts place great importance on stress, which they see as one of the most urgent problems today. Stress itself is not an illness, but if prolonged out, the body will not be able to return to a normal state, which has a negative effect on emotions.
The Mayo Clinic lists some common effects of stress:
- Muscle tension and pain
- Upset stomach
- Sleep issues
- Lack of motivation
- Overeating or undereating
- Angry Outbursts
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of exercise
Chronic stress can cause depression and anxiety. Studies have also shown that it can change the structure of the brain, affecting both the nerves and connections and increasing the likelihood of developing a mental illness. In some instances, short-term stress can lead to serious mental illness such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can develop after experiencing a traumatic event.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is how our bodies sometimes respond to stress and can be a feeling of dread, apprehension, and impending catastrophe. Some people confuse the feeling of anxiety with the feeling of fear. Typically, fear is an intense response to a clear and present danger; while anxiety is a pervasive uneasiness experienced when we are threatened by unknown dangers from outside ourselves or unconscious conflicts and impulses within ourselves.
When anxiety begins to interfere with daily activities it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, with just over 21% of adults affected each year and include many different types like these below.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects just over 6.8 million adults each year and is characterized by chronic worrying about everyday life and activities, lasting at least six months. People with GAD realize their anxiety is more intense than needed but don’t know how to stop the cycle. GAD can cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, stomachache, or nausea.
- Panic Disorder can happen repeatedly and without warning. These spontaneous episodes of fear trigger severe physical reactions such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Those with panic disorder are often preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack.
- Social Anxiety Disorder is also known as social phobia and is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, rejected, or negatively evaluated in a social situation. Social anxiety disorder affects over 15 million US adults each year and is the second most diagnosed anxiety disorder following a specific phobia. Social anxiety can cause rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, and possibly panic attacks.
- Phobia brings a disabling and irrational fear of something that poses no real threat or danger and leads to an avoidance of objects or situations. Specific phobias to things such as heights, spiders, tight spaces, and others can cause uneasy feelings and disrupt daily life and strain relationships as the individual will do what they need to avoid the situation or feelings of phobic anxiety.
It is important to understand and distinguish between stress and anxiety, and to know that help is available. The Pasadena Villa Network provides evidence-based treatment for those with serious mental illnesses. We provide individualized therapy programs in multiple levels of care that includes residential, partial hospitalization, and outpatient care. If you or someone you love is suffering from anxiety that is affecting daily living, call us today or complete our contact form for more information.