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The Difference Between Stress & Anxiety

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million U.S. adults aged 18 and over have some sort of anxiety disorder. That’s roughly 18% of American adults, and that number is even higher for youth: 25% of all teens and 30% of teenage girls suffer from anxiety disorders, ranging from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder, Specific Phobias, and more.

The ADAA states that, "Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at one time or another. The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress."

Stress tends to originate from an external pressure: your job, family dynamics, school, bills, a terrible boss, et cetera. Once the external pressure is resolved, the stress dissipates. Anxiety is the result of stress, and doesn't wane once the stress is gone. Anxiety often involves "persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening."

According to the Huff Post, stress and anxiety result in similar physical reactions: a racing heart, rapid breathing, and muscle tension. The similarities taper when anxiety yields to a panic attack, which brings about more severe versions of the symptoms, including chills, headaches, hot flashes, and chest pains.

Chronic stress is the response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time in which an individual perceives they have little or no control. People who have not found a way to manage everyday stressors often suffer from chronic stress, as do those who suffer traumatic events. The term "trauma" is often murky and difficult to define, and I think it is paramount to recognize that trauma comes in many shapes. Trauma may be: growing up in a foster home, being sexually abused or assaulted, the death of a child or loved one, being treated with ongoing prejudice, living in a community that is not safe, and more.

A study published in 2016 from the University of Montreal draws a strong parallel between perfectionism and stress or anxiety. “Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect.”

As a perfectionist, it’s easy to feel anxious when something isn’t perfect, and that something could be: my breakfast toast, my teeth, my clothes, the amount of traffic on the 5, the conversations I have with financial donors at work, weather, writing, how fast I’m developing personally, working out, not working out, my body, social justice issues, nuclear war, wildfires, the electric bill, rent, what to get so and so for Christmas, what to do next weekend, what to do this weekend, what to make for dinner, how to find time to see my gynecologist, going to the gynecologist, making new friends, keeping in touch with old friends, planning a wedding, managing the emotions of everyone involved in planning a wedding, et cetera et cetera et cetera. The list goes on.

If you know someone who suffers from/fights against/experiences anxiety, you know that it's not always obvious. You know how debilitating anxiety is, how scary it can be, and how monumental it is to overcome, in even the smallest way.

When I'm feeling anxious, I practice a few actions that usually help. Keep in mind that these suggestions might not work for you, and that's okay. You can, and will, find something that does.

1. Write Lists/Make a Plan: By breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, I feel like I'm accomplishing more and the task becomes manageable. I worry less about the big picture by focusing on smaller, though equally important details.

2. Practice Yoga: Some people meditate, but I haven't quite learned how to sit quietly yet. When my body is stressed, I crave yoga, and the deep, intentional breathing helps me feel relaxed and refreshed.

3. Practice Perspective: This one was hard for me, and I'm still learning that everything is not a disaster. Nothing is really the end of the world. It does no good to worry about the outcome of something I have no control over. Even the most catastrophic losses or disappointments can always be rectified by gaining perspective.

P.S. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or stress, visit ADAA to learn more or find a therapist near you. If you're not ready for therapy and want to learn more about meditation, perspective, and behavior modification, check out Guru Singh or follow him on Instagram.


Sarah Rose

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