Everyone feels stressed out from time to time. But how can you tell whether you’re feeling normal stress, or if you’re already experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder? The two can seem awfully alike especially since they produce a similar set of negative emotions in us.
While stress can be easily addressed with common stress management techniques, anxiety disorders are more persistent. Anxiety disorders can have heavier implications on your overall functioning that significantly lower your quality of life. Because of this, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of an anxiety disorder. Spotting the difference between normal stress and an anxiety disorder can help you address your mental health problems before they get too serious.
What is Stress?
To distinguish stress from anxiety disorders, we first need to understand what stress is.
According to the author and psychologist Spencer A. Rathus, stress is an emotional response to an external stimulus that demands us to adapt, cope, or adjust to a situation. While we normally think of stress as something negative, you might be surprised to find that there is such a thing as good stress.
It’s possible for stress to be a good thing.
Hans Selye was the first one to propose the idea that stress can be good for you. He called good stress by the term ‘eustress’ whose Greek root “eu” means ‘good’. In doing so, Selye made a distinction between eustress and bad stress. Though our bodies can’t tell the difference between good stress and bad stress, Selye found that the way we think of stress shapes how we experience it. He posited that stress can actually push us to challenge ourselves to expand our skills and even build our confidence in our ability to cope with the demands of daily life.
….however, stress can also be bad.
As opposed to eustress, bad stress has the opposite effect on the psyche. Selye used the term ‘distress’ to denote bad stress. Unlike eustress, distress arose from persistent patterns of hardship and defeat. We experience distress when situations consistently exceed our ability to cope with them. Because of this, we may end up thinking that we aren’t fit to deal with the world when we had difficulty managing stress.
Though we may normally be able to deal with problems as they arise, persistent negative experiences of stress can cause us to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Not all stress leads to an anxiety disorder but the potential for one to develop out of chronic stress is always a possibility. Like many psychological conditions, anxiety disorders feature physiological symptoms.
Try to recall the last time you felt nervous about something. Was it a job interview? Delivering a speech at a wedding? You may remember feeling like there was a lump in your throat, sweat rolling down your forehead, and clammy hands. These are common ways anxiety reflects on the body. Anxiety on its own, however, isn’t an anxiety disorder. For it to qualify as a disorder, it has to meet certain criteria. Under the DSM V, there are many anxiety disorders, each with its own separate diagnostic criteria.
Symptoms common of anxiety disorders are:
- Excessive worrying about a variety of events, situations, or things.
- Irritable mood.
- Difficulty sleeping and/or feeling restless.
- A constant sense of impending danger.
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking about something that isn’t the source of worry.
Stress vs. Anxiety Disorder
Now that you know what stress and anxiety disorders are, you already have an idea of the substantial ways they differ from each other. But a quick and crucial way to tell these two apart is to figure out whether you’re responding to immediate and tangible stimuli.
Stress is a direct response to a present threat and the feelings associated with it normally go away once a problem is resolved. For those experiencing anxiety disorders, however, the feeling of tension never quite goes away and they always feel on edge even when there is no present source of stress. If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder, you may even find that your constant worrying about the mere possibility of running into a stressful situation is, in itself, causing you stress.
Beginning to understand your feelings of stress and anxiety is a step in the right direction but it’s best to consult an anxiety therapist to confirm whether you do have an anxiety disorder. If you suspect that what you’re feeling is no longer within the range of normal stress, reach out to a mental health professional that can help you process and deal with anxiety.
Concerned you have an Anxiety Disorder?
If you’re reading this and realizing that you may fall into that “anxiety disorder” category, it may be time to get some professional help. The good news is that counseling can be a very effective way to treat anxiety disorders! And if you live in the Winnipeg area, the therapists at My Winnipeg Therapist would love to help.
Work with an Anxiety Therapist in Winnipeg
At My Winnipeg Therapist, our therapists can teach you techniques that can help you from feeling anxious. You deserve to feel more in control, and there are scientifically-proven techniques that can help treat your anxiety. Our therapists are ready to walk you through those techniques. Getting a firm hold on your anxiety a gradual process, but successful clients know it takes time and commitment. And let me tell you, it’s worth it. If you’re ready, you can begin counselling in Winnipeg with these easy steps:
- Schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if counseling is right for you
- Make an appointment with one of our caring therapists
- Get started on feeling better about yourself and your life
Other Services Offered at My Winnipeg Therapist
We offer counselling for a wide range of mental health concerns at our Winnipeg based counseling practice. Other mental health services we provide include counseling for depression, self-esteem therapy, trauma counseling, and individual counseling. If you have questions, please feel free to visit our FAQs page. Contact us for the support you deserve.