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Am I Just Stressed, Or Do I Have Anxiety?

At Punk Rock Saves Lives (PRSL), we try our best to stay in tune with the most relevant information for our friends in the community. Since April is National Stress Awareness month, it seems like the perfect time to address an elephant in the room before this month comes to a close!

It happens all the time; people misuse a word that they think is synonymous with something else when it really isn’t. Did you know that stress and anxiety are actually two different things? Many people don’t know that they aren’t interchangeable, and that’s okay! We’re here to help clarify the difference between the two so that you can easily identify what it is that you’re experiencing and take your power back when it comes to conversations around your mental health.

Definition of Stress

Stress is defined as: “any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain.”

Stress is connected to an external source. It is your body’s response (physical or mental) to something outside of yourself, like an occurrence or an impending event. When the external source in question is removed, the pressure is lifted.

For example: if you feel pressure because of an upcoming event (like a deadline), an illness, tension with a loved one, or the pandemic, this is typically stress and will fade once the issue is resolved.

Definition of Anxiety

Anxiety is: “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

In short, anxiety is an internal force. Anxiety can be a reaction to stress, but they are not mutually exclusive. Anxiety does not subside, even when the stressor is taken away. It is characterized by an overwhelming feeling of dread that impacts your ability to live your life “normally”, and often includes intrusive thought patterns and even physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, or tremors.

For example: If even the idea of going to/experiencing an event gives you such a strong feeling of unease that it debilitates your ability to go about your life, then you are likely experiencing anxiety.

Why It’s Important to Know (and Express) the Difference

So you may be wondering: “why does this matter?”

It’s important to know the distinction between the two for a few reasons:

  • When you are able to identify and therefore communicate your struggle, you are able to take the next steps to address it.

  • You can better understand your own experiences and the experiences of others.

  • You can move forward toward eliminating incorrect terminology from your conversations and help others do the same.

Empathy is key in the mental health community, and showing support for one another is critical. When we work together to gain a deeper understanding of our struggles, we expand our ability to empathize with those with different experiences from our own…and that’s a pretty incredible thing.

If you’re looking for ways to eliminate other harmful language from your vocabulary, this is a good place to start!

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