There’s always been a stigma surrounding mental health. In the past, if anyone admitted to their inner demons and said that they struggled with anything concerning their mental health, they were looked down upon. Thankfully, talking about mental disorders is less taboo now, and when someone admits that they struggle, they are often welcomed with open arms, because more and more people are admitting to their own struggles. This is just showing that more people struggle with things like depression and anxiety than we had previously realized. While the normalization of mental disorders is a good thing, it’s also unintentionally affected the meaning of the words anxiety and depression. These two disorders have become romanticized; some individuals think it’s noble to suffer from these disorders, and will claim to have them for the attention. Others are using these words interchangeably with other words when really what they mean is that they’re nervous, sad, upset, or stressed.
There’s quite a big difference between having anxiety and being stressed. Anyone can feel anxious for a moment, or even for a while about a certain thing or event, but it doesn’t mean that they you have anxiety. Feeling upset or stressed about something for a while doesn’t mean you’re having a panic attack.
Stress comes from external forces. You’re stressed about your job, money, family situations, friendships, romantic relationships, and so forth. When things becoming strained or difficult in your life, you can easily become stressed.
However, stress goes away. Your issues will always get resolved one way or another. When the things that you’re stressed about go away, so do your feelings of being stressed.
If you’re still feeling stress once the subject of your stress has truly been resolved, what you’re feeling may be anxiety. For example, you’re upset about something in the relationship you have with your spouse. You’re nervous to talk to them about the thing that’s upsetting them, so you spend all day fretting about what you’ll say and the correct way to tell them how you’re feeling. At the end of the day, you sit down with them and share your concerns, and the issue becomes resolved. The stress of the situation is now gone, and therefore, you’ll no longer be feeling stressed.
Anxiety is when, after having this conversation with your spouse, you continue to worry about it, chronically, for days. In your spare moments you’ll be wondering if you should’ve said something different, you’ll worry that they’re mad at you despite them being understanding and kind about the situation, and you’ll begin to tell yourself that you shouldn’t have been upset in the first place. Anxiety may cause you to obsess over simple things that aren’t, or shouldn’t be, a big deal.
Often, stress is mislabeled as anxiety. A lot of people don’t like going to the dentist. Leading up to a dentist visit, many people will feel anxious and nervous. Unless the anxious feelings of going to the dentist linger much longer after your visit, this is simply stress, rather than anxiety.
A lot of people mistake these issues as just stress, or just anxiety. Knowing what the cause of your feelings is can help you know how to handle them. For example, some people use alcohol or other substances to help them “de-stress” when they’re feeling overwhelmed. However, alcohol can be easily abused, and in situations where an alcohol dependency or addiction develops, it’s often caused by anxiety, rather than stress.
Anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, often meaning that the neurotransmitters in the brain aren’t functioning the way they’re supposed to. The neurotransmitters that are targeted in an anxiety disorder are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine.
GABA inhibits nerve transmission in the brain, which calms nervous activity. Serotonin affects your mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, and sexual desire. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that sends signals to your muscles to tell them to move. It’s also often considered the “feel good” chemical. Epinephrine helps regulate your breathing, stimulate your heart, and raise your blood pressure if it’s dropped.
An imbalance of any of these neurotransmitters can mean trouble. If there is a chemical imbalance, your body won’t be functioning properly, and therefore won’t react the way it’s supposed to. These imbalances can cause you to obsess over things you normally wouldn’t, make you feel useless and upset, lazy and lethargic, and even cause your heart rate to spike for no apparent reason.
What’s important to remember about anxiety is that, although it can be affected by or triggered by outside forces, what causes it is a chemical imbalance. If you have anxiety that’s affecting your daily life, seek out professional help to get a handle on it.