Am I Stressed or Anxious?
March 30, 2018
Recently, celebrities like Carson Daly, Kevin Love, and Bill Hader have all broken the silence about their journey with mental health. From acting, to hosting TV shows, to playing in national basketball games – a common thread amongst these guys is that they have all spoken out about their struggles with anxiety.
This discussion is coming as a sigh of relief for many people who identify with talk of a racing heart and sweaty palms. But it may also leave some wondering how to tell the difference between normal stress and anxiety disorder.
Both stress and anxiety can trigger a very physical response, which can make differentiating the two confusing. Rapid heartbeat, shaking hands, and dry mouth, for example, are all classic symptoms of anxiety and stress.
There are, however, a couple of ways to help differentiate between stress and anxiety. One way is that with stress, there’s a known source – you’re on a tight deadline or the kids just won’t listen. Alternatively, people with an anxiety disorder will frequently be anxious for no apparent reason.
Another aspect to anxiety is often the degree to which symptoms are felt. Being anxious without an obvious cause can trigger a snowball effect, leaving people to be anxious about feeling anxious. This can become a normal state of being for some people – waking up feeling anxious, going to work feeling anxious, running errands feeling anxious. Then when stressors are added into the mix, those physical symptoms can be exacerbated to the point of panic attack.
Also, know that being overwhelmed is notably different than having a panic attack. Symptoms of a panic attack can vary depending on the person, but many people describe the feeling as like having a heart attack. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Racing heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tunnel vision
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror, or impending doom, or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeling a loss of control
Oftentimes, there’s an overlap in the way we speak about stress and anxiety, which can add to confusion. For example, if someone says, “This traffic jam is giving me anxiety,” it may actually be that the situation is causing them stress. Conversely, if someone says that they’re nervous or on edge, but can’t articulate why, it could be anxiety.
As with many mental health issues, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why some people are more prone to generalized anxiety disorder than others. It could stem from brain chemistry, environmental situations, differences in perception, genetics – or a mixture of multiple factors. But it’s important to recognize the difference between stress and anxiety so you’re better equipped to handle your feelings.
Know that it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, but when your anxiety begins to affect your quality of life, it might be time to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Anxiety is a very manageable condition with many different treatment options, so it’s just a matter of finding the option that will work best for you.
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Goldberg, Joseph. (2017, February 9). Panic Attack Symptoms. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/panic-attack-symptoms#1
Holmes, Lindsay. (2014, February 25). The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/stress-anxiety-difference_n_4833172.html
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, October 13). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803