While it can be difficult to differentiate between stress and anxiety due to similarities in how they both may manifest themselves (physical symptoms), it can be important to understand whether we are stressed or anxious as the treatment for the two can be very different. The first step towards treatment, towards healing and towards mental peace is being aware of and understanding what exactly we are going through.
So What is Stress?
Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from a Stressor (adverse or demanding circumstances) as we are pushed by work or any other task that seems to put pressure on us.
So why is Stress so bad? If it is just a response
Initially when our stress increases it actually also increases our efficiency. This Stress is called Eustress and is actually necessary for our overall well being. The excitement of a roller-coaster ride, a scary movie, or a fun challenge are all examples of eustress. It helps us stay focused, energetic, and alert.
It is beyond a certain point that stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to our health, our mood, our productivity, our relationships, and our quality of life.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, it is the feelings of dread over anticipated events. Such as fear of exams. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, it could be generalised or focused to something specific for example: anxiety from needles, closed spaces, specific animals etc.
Are your emotions about a specific event or thing?
Stress is caused by an existing stress-causing factor or stressor. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or even anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily same for the other.
Examples of stressors can be:
- Impending promotion or reward
- Presentation or addressing a gathering
- Submitting work
- Having a difficult conversation
- Managing a new project
- Interacting with new people or with an authority figure
- Learning a new skill etc.
When Excessive anxiety stays for at least 6 months, it seems difficult to control the worry; Feeling restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge; Feeling that we are easily fatigued (tired); Finding difficulty in concentrating, Irritability, Muscle tension, Sleep disturbance then it is classified as an Anxiety Disorder.
How do Stress and Anxiety feel?
Stress: During stress adrenaline is released, which leads to an increase in our heartbeat, a rise in our blood pressure, it leads muscles to tense, and the pupils of our eyes to dilate. When stress is prolonged, adrenaline may cause negative changes and effects in our physical health. Which means that stress is a natural phenomenon, when an individual can cope with stress, the person can use it to their advantage. However, if one can not cope with it over a long period of time it may cause depression, hypertension, anxiety, an increase in Blood Pressure or other medical concerns, as well.
Anxiety: It is a feeling of apprehension or fear and is almost always accompanied by feelings of impending doom. When we are anxious we seem to constantly be troubled by “what if… ”- “what if something goes wrong?” “what if I don’t score well?” “what if the dog standing 2 feet away bites me?” “what if after marriage my in laws mistreat me?” With anxiety, fear overcomes all emotions accompanied by worry and apprehension.
What are the Symptoms?
You may notice the signs below which indicate you may be under severe Stress:
- Constant aches and pains
- Chronic fatigue
- Over or under- eating
- Frequent infections, and
- A decrease in sexual desire
We all feel stressed when we are faced with a stressor, the above is what might happen if we are not able to cope with the Stress.
As mentioned above if we are not able to cope with a Stressor it may also lead to Depression . Depression is characterized by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. It also negatively affects our energy, motivation, and ability to experience joy, pleasure, elation, happiness, excitement, anticipation and satisfaction.
Depression can also have fatigue, over or under eating, hypersomnia (excess sleep) or insomnia (low or no sleep), crying, sometimes it may be as extreme as having suicidal thoughts. The difference then between Stress and depression is in : One, the duration of depression usually extends more than two weeks to over 6 months and two it may continue even after the Stressor is long gone. While Stress is shortlived only till the presence of the Stressor.
Also Depression can be caused due to a mix of both external factors (environmental, social) as well as internal factors: a genetic predisposition (if someone in the family has also experienced Depression). Stress, however, is due to external factors- Stressors.
The symptoms of Anxiety are:
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Chest pains
- Panic attacks
- Irritability or anger
- Inability to concentrate
- Fear of being “crazy”
- Feeling unreal and not in control of your actions which is called depersonalization
What is the difference?
As we have discussed earlier, however, the difference doesn’t lie in symptoms or what happens when we have Stress or Anxiety but rather in cause… A stressor, an incident, or an upcoming event may cause us to feel Stressed. However, anxiety is a feeling of being under perceived attack while stress is a feeling of being under a real attack which may activate a defence mechanism within our body.
How do the two affect our performance?
Oftentimes when we are under stress and/or anxiety we feel unable to give our 100% to anything- work, relationships etc. we also can’t seem to control our emotions. And because we can’t give our 100%, our stress and/or anxiety tends to increase, thus reducing our focus further… Making a never ending cycle. To perform better it is important to focus on breaking this cycle.