A hectic workload. A sick family member. An important exam that determines your future. A natural disaster. An interpersonal conflict in your office.
All of these scenarios have one thing in common: they are inherently stressful.
Regardless of our backgrounds, at some point we all encounter many types of stressors – or threatening situations that trigger our brains to release stress hormones. Many refer to this as the fight or flight response. This reaction has protected humans from danger since we first walked the earth, because stressful situations have always been an inevitable part of life.
Although we’ve all experienced stress to some degree, many people often mistake it for anxiety – or vice versa. Increased heart rate, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue are all symptoms of both stress and anxiety, so how do you distinguish one from the other?
Continue reading to learn the difference between these conditions and how to know it’s time to seek help from one of our mental health providers.
Stress vs. Anxiety: What’s the difference?
When faced with pressure at work or school, a sudden life change, financial challenges, or another trying situation, it’s normal to feel stressed. Stress occurs whenever you experience a situation that makes your body react with physical, emotional, or mental strain. This response is intended to keep you “safe” until the external stressor is no longer affecting you.
Anxiety, on the other hand, deals with hypothetical stressors that could affect you in the future. You may feel scared, worried, or nervous when thinking about possible situations that are inherently stressful, like failing a test or having an accident.
However, when you’re experiencing anxiety, there is not an external stressor to warrant this response – at least not yet. Instead, your brain is trying to keep you safe ahead of time by preparing for every outcome.
How to Find Relief
Stress and anxiety are a natural part of life. Without intervention, however, both can lead to a range of chronic issues that affect your mind and body. Some healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety include:
When to Seek Professional Help
If you practice healthy habits like those listed above but still feel mentally imbalanced, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a professional.
Short-term stress and anxiety are normal. However, experiencing either of these conditions long-term can be a sign of a mental illness, like generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or another condition. Serious health effects like heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, lack of sleep, and depression can occur if these issues are left undiagnosed and untreated.
If you’re struggling to cope with excess stress or anxiety, our mental health providers at Rural Psychiatry Associates are here to help. We offer psychological screenings and a variety of treatment options to help you live a calmer, more fulfilling life.