Anxiety vs Stress

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Anxiety is truly a natural human emotion that every human being experiences. Anxiety can be experienced as a friend or foe: it can keep us out of trouble by alerting us to danger or have us chronically on edge with the assumption of danger even when things are fine. Ordinary, healthy worry reminds us to pay our taxes, see a doctor when we’re feeling sick, and lock the doors at night. But when worry escalates into chronic anxiety, keeping us from fully living our lives, it’s time to assess the kind of relationship we have with our anxiety and take action to change it.

The good news: Not everyone who worries or feels anxious has an anxiety disorder. You may be anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, health issues, lack of exercise or sleep, pressure at home or work, or even from drinking too much coffee.

It is important to keep in mind if your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you’re more likely to feel anxious whether or not you have an anxiety disorder.

Statistics related to Anxiety Disorders (Link)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses. Forty million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. (Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics)

In addition, a 2008 Associated Press and mtvU survey of college students found the following:

  • 80 percent say they frequently or sometimes experience daily stress
  • 34 percent have felt depressed at some point in the past three months
  • 13 percent have been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder or depression
  • 9 percent have seriously considered suicide in the past year

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(Adapted by the American Psychbological Association)

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Am I just stressed or do I have Anxiety? (Link)

Stress vs. Anxiety?

Stress can be defined as a strain on your abilities to cope with the demands placed on you by everyday life and is a natural response to a situation where you feel under pressure. Examples of stress are trouble meeting deadlines, public speaking, time management, exams, feeling overworked, transitions, worry over loved ones, etc.

Stress, whether it be from a significant life experience or a lot of everyday things, can lead us to feel overwhelmed and have a negative impact on our lives.

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Stress can help us make beneficial decisions and sometimes achieve optimal performance. Although if every day experiences of stress start to aggregate and snowball, this can lead to chronic stress or anxiety. In moderation, stress or anxiety is not always negative. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation.

Research has shown that long-term stress left unaddressed can increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Learning how to effectively manage stress helps to prevent it from leading to these types of problems.

What is Anxiety?  (Link)

Anxiety is a multisystem response to perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, while including the person’s personal life history, memories and the circumstances of the present social situation. Anxiety becomes the “what if,” it’s anticipatory of what could happen while stress is more about a response to every day challenges. Anxiety is excessive and/or unrealistic worry that is difficult to control occurring more days than not.

Over time, high levels of circulating epinephrine over the long term, coupled with the release of the stress hormone cortisol, can cause or exacerbate severe health problems, like heart disease, obesity, and suppression of the immune system. Chronic stress can also contribute to the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

How do I know it is anxiety that I am struggling with? (Link)

It is anxiety when stress stops being functional and becomes constant or overwhelming; it interferes with your relationships, activities and effects the quality of your life. This is often when you have crossed the line from “normal,” productive stress into the territory of an anxiety problem.

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Signs and symptoms of Anxiety Disorders (Link)

Because anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, they can look very different from person to person. One individual may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without warning, while another gets panicky at the thought of mingling at a party. Someone else may struggle with a disabling fear of driving, or uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. Yet another may live in a constant state of tension, worrying about anything and everything.

Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders share one major symptom: persistent or severe fear or worry in situations where most people generally wouldn’t feel threatened. Keep in mind it is normal to feel anxious, although living with an anxiety disorder is typically determined based on the following four factors:

  1. Frequency: How often do the symptoms occur?
  2. Duration: How long do the symptoms last?
  3. Intensity: How strong are your symptoms?
  4. Impact: How much do the symptoms impact your daily life?

Questions that may help you determine the intensity, frequency, duration and impact of anxiety are:

  • Are you able to work or go to school?
  • Can you maintain healthy, meaningful relationships?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping or concentrating?
  • Are you able to find p
    leasure in your life?

If you find yourself unable to function on a daily basis because of your anxiety, it may be time to consider getting help from a qualified professional. This may be your first time standing up for yourself, to consider your right to live a happy, healthy existence. Despite feelings of shame or stigma or the desire to hide from it, or deny it, please know that help is readily available

Psychological symptoms of anxiety

In addition to the primary symptoms of irrational and excessive fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tense/ jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Self-Doubt
  • Watching for signs of danger

These emotions can lead to physiological symptoms of anxiety

Keep in mind that Anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the body’s fight-or-flight response, anxiety involves a wide range of physical symptoms. Because of the numerous physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is discovered.

Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Stomach upset or dizziness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Poor memory recall

(Adapted from The Four Gifts of Anxiety BY: Sherianna Boyle, Med, CAGS 2015)

Panic attacks and their symptoms (Link)

Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. Anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger�” getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give�”but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.

Anxiety attacks usually peak within ten minutes, and they rarely last more than thirty minutes. But during that short time, the terror can be so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms of anxiety attacks are themselves so frightening that many people believe they’re having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may be worried about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isn’t available or you can’t easily escape.

Symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Surge of overwhelming panic 
  • Feeling of losing control or going crazy 
  • Heart palpitations or chest pain 
  • Feeling like you’re going to pass out 
  • Trouble breathing or choking sensation 
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Hot flashes or chills 
  • Trembling or shaking 
  • Nausea or stomach cramps 
  • Feeling detached or unreal

Types of Anxiety Disorders  (Link)

There are six major types of anxiety disorders:

There are six major types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct symptom profile: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (anxiety attacks), phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Helpguide.org offers an entire article on each type of anxiety disorder.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities, or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling th.at something bad is going to happen. You feel anxious nearly all of the time, though you may not even know why.
  • Panic disorder: characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seems impossible to stop or control. You may be troubled by obsessions, or feel compelled to perform repeated actions called rituals.
  • Phobia: an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of snakes, spiders, flying, and heights.
  • Social anxiety disorder: characterized by a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public. It can be thought of as extreme shyness.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): An extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. Symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.

Potential Contributors to Anxiety: (Link)

  • Hereditary
  • Childhood circumstances
  • Stress  (i.e. sudden onset and/or cumulative in nature)
  • Health-related factors
  • Trauma

When to seek professional help for anxiety disorders (Link)

While self-help coping strategies for anxiety can be very effective, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks have become so great that they’re causing extreme distress or disrupting your daily routine, it is important to seek professional help.

If you’re experiencing a lot of physical anxiety symptoms, consider getting a medical checkup. Your doctor can check to make sure that your anxiety isn’t caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia, or asthma. Since certain drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, your doctor will also want to know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs you’re taking.

If your physician rules out a medical cause, the next step is to consult with a therapist who has experience treating anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the cause and type of your anxiety disorder and devise a course of treatment.

Treatment options for Anxiety Disorders (Link)

Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment, often in a relatively short amount of time. The specific treatment approach depends on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity. But in general, most anxiety disorders are treated with behavioral therapy, life style change and times medication; or some combination of treatment. Sometimes complementary or alternative treatments may also be helpful such as acupuncture, mindfulness, or hypnotism.

  • Treatment varies though can include:
  • Psychoeducation
  • Relaxation & Mediation techniques
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Exposure or Exposure-Response Prevention
  • Relapse prevention
  • Therapy (Individual and/or group)
  • Can also include medication or natural remedies such as Kava
  • Acupuncture
  • Treatment always includes lifestyle component and detecting the ways that you may maintain anxiety in your life.

Self-help for Anxiety (Link)

If you feel like you worry too much, take some time to evaluate how well you’re caring for yourself.

  • Do you make time each day for relaxation and fun?
  • Are you getting the emotional support you need?
  • Are you taking care of your body?
  • Are you overloaded with responsibilities?
  • Do you ask for help when you need it?

If your stress levels are through the roof, think about how you can bring your life back into balance. There may be responsibilities you can give up, turn down, or delegate to others- this often involves set
ting boundaries and letting go of your need to control. If you’re feeling isolated or unsupported, find someone you trust to confide in.

Self-help tips for anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders (To be further developed)

#1: Challenge negative thoughts

  • Write down your worries. Keep a pad and pencil on you, or type on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. When you experience anxiety, write down your worries. Writing down is harder work than simply thinking them, so your negative thoughts are likely to disappear sooner.
  • Create an anxiety worry period. Choose one or two 10 minute “worry periods” each day, time you can devote to anxiety. During your worry period, focus only on negative, anxious thoughts without trying to correct them. The rest of the day, however, is to be designated free of anxiety. When anxious thoughts come into your head during the day, write them down and “postpone” them to your worry period.
  • Accept uncertainty. Unfortunately, worrying about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable�”it only keeps you from enjoying the good things happening in the present. Learn to accept uncertainty and not require immediate solutions to life’s problems. Try do this this without judging yourself.

#2: Take care of yourself

  • Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
  • Adopt healthy eating habits. Start the day right with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more anxious.
  • Reduce alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. They lead to more anxiety, not less.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, so try to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep a night.

#3:  Self Compassion

(Adapted from HELPguide.org)

Web Resources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

The Calm Clinic

The Anxiety Network

Blogs: The 10 best Anxiety Blogs of 2016 according to Health Line