Do I Suffer From Stress Or An Anxiety Disorder?

Do I Suffer from Stress or an Anxiety Disorder?

The line that distinguishes certain theoretical constructs from others is very fine, especially in disciplines such as psychology. And over the last few decades some concepts have been conceptualized from the scientific field, even in opposing ways. Therefore, it is logical that many people have difficulties in differentiating some ‘psi’ terms from others, even more so when they are used every day in everyday language, as is the case with stress and anxiety: is one part of the other? ? They’re synonyms?

The debate takes a qualitative leap when we think that, as a result of this confusion, a person may not know what to do with their problem because they do not know if what they are suffering from is stress or an anxiety disorder. For this reason, in this article we will point out the main differences between both constructs and certain guidelines for distinguish stress from an anxiety disorder.

What is stress?

First of all, we can start by defining stress as an adaptive mechanism that refers to a series of physiological changes that allow an organism to adapt to a stressful stimulus, which could be aversive or not, which we call a stressor. Human beings and other species are permanently exposed to environmental stressors, so their presence represents an alteration of our homeostasis or internal balance. This, far from being a problem, is a great virtue. That’s why we say that stress is an adaptive mechanism: If it weren’t for it, we would not be able to behave in a way that is consistent with what is happening around us (it allows us to flee from a dark alley where we could be attacked, for example).

You may be interested:  How a Mental Health Center Can Help You Overcome Depression

However, constant exposure to stressful stimuli can cause stress to become chronic, which can seriously affect our health. It affects our immune system and, above all, our nervous system. To cope with stressors, the body first triggers a nervous sympathetic response — producing phenomena such as an increase in our blood pressure, since it seeks glucose (the fuel for quick energy) and nutrients to travel through the bloodstream quickly. to carry out an adaptive response to the stressor—; and this not being enough, it evokes an endocrine response. It achieves this by activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the result of which is the overproduction of glucocorticoids, which if it persists over time, can trigger serious alterations, both behavioral and cognitive.

How to distinguish stress from anxiety?

For its part, anxiety is usually defined as a series of behaviors, physiological reactions, experiences and normal emotional expressions, which we all present when faced with a possible threat, whether real or not. The first point why anxiety is often confused with stress is that it also involves an adaptive mechanism. Feeling anxiety allows us to anticipate the future and evaluate possible scenarios as a consequence of the same circumstance so it is essential for decision making.

When we experience anxiety, we present signs and symptoms such as localized sweating in the hands, we feel nervous or restless, we have palpitations or even tachycardia. As we can see, these coincide with many of the symptoms of stress. However, in order to distinguish the two constructs, some authors point out the fact that anxiety is an emotional response to stress, so it could not be thought of in isolation from it, but rather as another dimension of the adaptive mechanism. . In relation to this idea, the American Psychological Association has published an article on the matter in which it points out that stress is typically caused by a trigger external to the subject, which generates symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue or anger.

You may be interested:  Looking at Your Cell Phone and Anxiety: Overcoming Technological Addiction

On the other hand, anxiety is defined as excessive worry in the face of a stressor—so we could argue that it is part of this continuum—but that persists even when the stressor is no longer present. In this way, a threat is configured that tends to be internal, unknown and vague. This is why, for some people, it is difficult to identify which situations or objects they feel anxious about.

The difference between anxiety and stress disorders

As we have developed, the line that distinguishes anxiety from stress is fragile: both are adaptive, universal mechanisms, they serve us to respond to the environment, their symptoms and signs often coincide, as do the most efficient coping strategies for them. answer them. Some of these are physical exercise, good sleep hygiene, varied and complete diet, etc. However, when anxiety or stress becomes chronic and becomes a pathology, the distinction becomes more evident.

We can feel stressed in everyday situations in our lives, whether we value them positively or negatively. In the case of the latter, they can be triggered by short-term events, such as a work delivery within the next few days, but also by long-term phenomena, such as the diagnosis of a chronic illness. An increasingly common stress disorder among people is burnout, also known as burnout syndrome, which especially affects those workers whose work involves caring for people, such as doctors or teachers. Another stress disorder is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which after a highly stressful or traumatic situation (such as a traffic accident or an abusive situation), the person presents symptoms such as depersonalization, derealization, affective anesthesia —that is, it indicates “not feeling anything”— and, above all, it has re-experiencing phenomena or flashbacks of said situation.

You may be interested:  ​When to Go to an Online Psychologist: 6 Common Problems

On the other hand, there is another range of disorders that, although they are linked to stressful phenomena, their characteristic component is the prevalence of anxiety and the avoidance of circumstances in which it may manifest. Some of these disorders are phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. In them, the person usually presents excessive and uncontrollable worry about certain stimuli (whether real or hypothetical, present or not) that ends up interfering with their daily tasks in a negative way. For example, if a person has a feeling of suffocation and body sweating, accompanied by the cognitive component of hypervaluation of his or her fears, it is possible that it is an anxiety disorder.

Beyond these guidelines that we have pointed out, it is also important to note that the line could continue to be fine even knowing the differences between both concepts. For this reason, to know with certainty if someone suffers from stress or an anxiety disorder, a consultation with a mental health professional will be necessary, capable of providing an accurate diagnosis and guiding treatment.