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Stress and Anxiety -- Knowing the Difference from CIRCLE CARE Center

This piece was originally published by Driven Local on CIRCLE CARE Center's website on June 25. 2017. Triangle Community Center has a long-standing partnership with CIRCLE CARE Center, and one of the best ways to support your local LGBTQ community center is to access services available at CIRCLE CARE Center.


Many of us think of stress as a bad thing. But believe it or not, a little bit of stress is good for you. Imagine if you had an assignment due for school tomorrow, but felt no pressure to get it done. Would you every do anything? And as it gets later and later, that little bit of stress you feel encourages you to turn off the TV and get to work. But how do you know when stress has turned into something else, like anxiety?

What is Stress?

Stress is highly subjective. What one person finds stressful, another person could be amused by, while a third person could be unaffected by it all together. So what is stress? Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” In other words, stress is what you feel when you’re under pressure. But as we learned above, not all stress is bad stress. In fact, studies show that intermittent bouts of stress actually help keep your brain alert and focused.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Sounds pretty similar to stress, right? But while stress is a regular, dare we say, healthy emotion that nearly everyone faces at some point in their life, anxiety is a mental health disorder that affects far fewer people (roughly 3 million people in the United States).

Signs You may Have Anxiety

  • Excessive worry: You have feelings of nervousness or unease that last for several days or months at a time, and interfere with your daily routine and sleep.
  • Self-consciousness: Fear prevents you from going to social events or talking to people you don’t know.
  • Panic attacks: Not everyone who has panic attacks has anxiety, though it is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety. Panic attacks can be identified by a sudden and gripping feeling of helplessness, difficulty breathing, and fast heartbeat.

Understanding the Difference Between the Two

Though there are certainly similarities between stress and anxiety, people often use the terms interchangeably. But in reality, stress and anxiety are two very different things.

David Spiegel, Stanford University’s associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, says that all in all, “the key difference [between the two] is the sense of helplessness...”

Stress usually stems from an external situation — a paper you haven’t finished yet, a test next week, or moving to a new place. Once the paper is finished, the test is over, or you’ve gotten more comfortable in your new home, the stress will likely go away.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is usually based in fear — the fear of being rejected by peers, fear of failure, or the fear of disappointing others. In order to control or eliminate your anxiety, you have to work on yourself internally. Regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and listening to soothing music have all been shown to reduce anxiety levels in people of all ages.


 

From CIRCLE CARE Center: For patients receiving medical care at CIRCLE CARE Center, our Mental Health and Social Services provider offers individual and group counseling to support your emotional and physical well-being. If you want to learn more about the services we offer, give us a call at (203) 852.9525.


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