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Anxiety or Stress?

Who isn’t experiencing some level of stress…or is it anxiety? Does it make you anxious to think about how stressed you are just reading this? Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America, affecting around 18 percent of the U.S. population in any given year, and almost 30 percent of American adults across their lifespan.

Stress is part of the natural human condition. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to sound the proverbial alarm if danger were imminent. Stress is one of the greatest tools an animal has to beat the odds and stay alive. So, how do we differentiate between stress and anxiety when the lines seem to be so blurred?

According to psychologist, Harris Stratyner, stress is distinguished in several ways. Imagine visualizing a graph chart of spiking highs and lows that also subside repeatedly. You usually know what’s prompted the upsurge. This could range from major issues like a job loss, pending bills, a relationship break-up or even less pressing events like snarled traffic or the grind of your morning commute. Reactions might range from difficulty in focusing to stomach aches or even breakouts. He states that, “Once the cause is gone, though, you feel lighter and the symptoms quickly vanish.” There is a feeling of relief until the next time.

On the other hand, anxiety may feel like stress but it doesn’t stop and you can’t figure out why. Perhaps every day you awaken filled with dread and you cannot shake the feeling that everything is out of control. Dr. Stratyner says, “If that’s you more days than not over a six-month period, and it’s preventing you from working or having fun, you may have generalized anxiety disorder.” It is highly treatable and seeking out a consultation with your doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist may be a good start.

We have all experienced periods in our lives that are less ideal than others and we may be trying our best to manage a lot while maintaining some sort of balance. When I look back on times when I could have benefited from the support of others, professional or not, I wish that I had done so sooner than I did. However, whether I felt up to it or not, exercise, always helped. Whether it was dragging myself to the gym or taking long walks, physical activity was better than not. So, for now, grab your headphones, get moving and no matter how…break a sweat.

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