The terms ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ are thrown around so casually in every day life it’s easy to forget what they actually mean but there is a difference. It’s important to know whether you’re experiencing stress or anxiety because one is totally manageable with a few easy steps, while the other could mean you need some extra help.
Stress is a part of life and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s your body’s response to feeling threatened and while it doesn’t feel all that great it’s not permanent and can be soothed by dealing with the source of the stress. Anxiety, however, is more complex. It’s a persistent feeling of unease and it can be debilitating.
One of the symptoms of anxiety is a fear of being considered ‘crazy’. This makes it especially hard for people with anxiety to seek help; they don’t want their worst fears confirmed. In fact 1 in 5 South Africans suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder so if you’re suffering you are certainly not alone. Anxiety can be treated with medication as well as cognitive-behavioural or behavioural therapy.
Ask yourself if you relate to these phrases to determine whether you’re under a normal amount of stress or if you’re dealing with something bigger like anxiety:
I often feel totally helpless
Someone who is stressed knows why they are stressed and can alleviate their stress by taking specific steps. Like getting up a bit earlier to study or asking someone to read over their proposal. Someone with an anxiety mindset will feel overwhelmed and out of control, as though they can’t help themselves. Stress can be dealt with by cracking on and finishing the task that is causing you stress. Anxiety needs to be dealt with differently. A professional can provide counselling, get to the root of the anxiety, offer better coping mechanisms and/or prescribe medication to help.
I suffer from panic attacks
Everyone has felt panicked from stress at some stage, but suffering from an actual panic attack is a sign of an underlying anxiety disorder. A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of fear that presents in physical symptoms including a pounding heart, struggling to breathe, nausea and a genuine worry that you might die. A medical professional can help people who experience panic attacks to figure out their triggers and develop strategies for the future.
I have made changes to my life because of how anxious I feel
…And not the good kind of changes. Do you avoid people, events or places because you worry that seeing them or going there will stress you out? If your fear of feeling anxious affects your life so much that you cancel plans and stick to the safe space of your room you could have an anxiety problem. Avoiding situations or distancing yourself from people so they can’t see how anxious you are is an example of an unhealthy coping mechanism developed by an anxious mind.
There is always something new to worry about
One of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder is chronic worrying. When you’re stressed you can pin point the source of it. Maybe it’s an upcoming exam or the thought of not making rent this month. Once your exam is done or you’ve managed to sell your ghd on Gumtree to cover your rent the stress disappears and you’re free to relax. Anxiety, however, doesn’t go away so easily. It’s a constant feeling of dread or doom. If you always have an unsettling feeling of apprehension, even when you’ve got nothing in particular stressing you out then it’s probably anxiety.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group can help you find a professional to talk to.
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