When you feel run down, when you worry a lot, when you can’t sleep at night and you feel overwhelmed, the question is: is this the result of everyday stress or are you suffering from an anxiety disorder?
And indeed, the two can be difficult to distinguish from each other.
So, what’s the difference?
Stress and anxiety disorders are closely related.
There are scientific discussions about anxiety disorders. Are they genetic? Is stress the trigger?
Here are some of the main differences between everyday stress and anxiety disorders:
The human stress response
The human stress response is necessary for our survival.
Our system responds to danger by going into the famous ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our hearts start to beat faster, our breath becomes shallow, our digestive and reproductive systems shut down temporarily. We become super-alert and vigilant.
If there is a tiger in the vicinity, we are now best equipped to run away or fight it.
This is what happens in response to everyday stress triggers – triggers that rarely involve a live tiger anymore.
And that’s part of the problem.
The human stress response does enable us to deal with other dangers such as traffic, a difficult boss, and very demanding tasks with a short deadline.
But it is a very crude response to the triggers of the complex and sophisticated lives we now live.
If your symptoms are related to everyday stress, they will arise as the stress response is triggered, and then weaken and eventually disappear as the human relaxation response kicks in, and as the stress naturally dissipates.
Everyday stress is normal. So is everyday relaxation and recovery from stress.
When does the anxiety produce symptoms?
Anxiety disorders produce similar symptoms to everyday stress, but they can have very different triggers.
Anxiety disorder symptoms are triggered by the anticipation of a future threat, real or imagined. Anxiety can produce fear, avoidance behaviors, and are associated with thoughts and beliefs that perpetuate the anxiety.
With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety symptoms are triggered almost at random. Anything that upsets the patient’s routine or sense of calm can set off an episode of anxiety.
What is the timeline?
Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when anxiety symptoms persist for a specific period of time, depending on the type of anxiety, or for more days than not over a period of six months. A psychotherapist or psychiatrist can assist you in determining if your anxiety has reached a point where psychotherapeutic or pharmaceutical interventions are warranted.
How intense are the symptoms?
Another important aspect of anxiety disorders is the intensity of the symptoms.
Are they mild and manageable? Can you quite easily recover from them or do they disrupt your everyday life? Or do you feel caught in your anxiety with no way out?
If your anxiety seriously affects your ability to live and work, then you are probably suffering from an anxiety disorder. The same is true if your anxiety makes you feel hopeless and helpless or if you have frequent panic attacks that make it impossible for you to lead a normal life. If you have suicidal thoughts, you immediately need to seek help.
How do you get out of it?
Everyday anxiety is a very good reason to seek professional counseling. Your counselor can help you find solutions that will make your life less stressful and will put you in charge when you are dealing with those everyday situations that cause stress.
If you think you might suffer from an anxiety disorder, get a diagnosis from a mental health professional. There are many treatment options available, including medications and psychotherapy, and many people can manage their anxiety disorder very successfully.
Whatever you do, don’t spend your energy and time worrying about this.
These conditions deserve your attention and they can be treated.
Don’t add unnecessary suffering to your already stressful life!