We’ve all felt that familiar knot in our stomach from anxiety or stress at some point in our lives. Whether it’s because of a big test, a new environment, family-related issues, or just negative thoughts about the future, life throws curve balls our way and it's our body's natural response to be stressed or have anxiety about our fears. It’s not uncommon for these conditions to be confused and even blurred together. Though their symptoms on the surfaces can seem similar, they are very different. So how do we tell the difference between the two? Let's break it down...
Stress is typically a reaction from something external and can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or even anxious. Stress is subjective. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another person. It is the way our bodies and minds react to something which upsets our normal routine or balance.
Stressful events, like being frightened or scared, are a great example of how our bodies can react. During these stressful events, our adrenal glands release adrenaline, a hormone which activates our body’s defense mechanisms causing the heart to pound, blood pressure to rise, muscles to tense, and the pupils of our eyes to dilate. One of the biggest indicators of stress is an escalated heart rate. However, a normal pulse rate doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t stressed.
Stress affects you more than just physically, too. It can affect your ability to think clearly, your emotions, and your self-esteem.
Anxiety, on the other hand, comes from internal issues and thoughts. It’s a feeling of apprehension or fear, and is almost always accompanied by feelings of impending doom. The root of most anxiety is fear, though oftentimes the individual isn’t aware of why they are anxious, which can add to the distress that they are already feeling.
Stress is more geared toward a moment or event, where anxiety is a general distress over an unknown cause. Anxiety symptoms can include apprehension, general worrying, unrealistic views of problems, restlessness, and procrastination.
Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include chest pains, shortness of breath, panic attacks, rashes, hot flashes, muscle aches, headaches, fidgeting, nausea, and more.
Now that you know the difference between stress and anxiety, you can pinpoint exactly what you are experiencing and work on getting the help you need. The right treatment – like counseling – can help you live a more healthy, and happy life. More information on our Counseling Center can be found here.