As a society, our awareness of the prevalence of anxiety has increased. Anxiety has become a topic that has flooded our social media accounts, and the recognition of the seriousness of anxiety has comforted many. As a result, we are exposed to numerous articles, videos and discussion boards on the topic of anxiety. It is important for you to be able to distinguish between clinical anxiety and feelings of stress or worry. The biggest difference between clinical anxiety and stress is found in the intensity, frequency and impact.
Both stress and anxiety can feel all consuming and overwhelming. Anxiety, however, feels much less manageable than everyday worries or stress. A person with clinical anxiety will feel out of control of their anxiety and have difficulty managing their symptoms. Additionally, clinical anxiety corresponds with physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can include: racing heart, trouble breathing, sweating palms, shaking hands, feeling lightheaded, restlessness, nausea, difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite.
Stress is, typically, caused by situational or environmental factors. In the other words, we can (usually) pinpoint the cause or root of our stress. Stress occurs, for example, when we are looking for a new job, experiencing difficulty in our relationships or have a heavy work load. Unlike stress, clinical anxiety is more generalized and about a variety of different situations and events. The anxious thoughts and worries a person with clinical anxiety experiences, is often unrealistic and unlikely to occur. For example, a person with clinical anxiety will imagine worst-case scenarios that have very little to no probability of occurring. Additionally, clinical anxiety persists for a longer period of time than stress. Clinical anxiety is excessive feelings of worry on more days than not for at least 6 months (this is different for children).
Clinical anxiety can be very debilitating and negatively impacts at least one domain of life. Furthermore, clinical anxiety prevents a person from participating in and enjoying basic life experiences. For example, it can impact our work performance, social activity, mood, self-esteem, relationships and health. The intensity of clinical anxiety is markedly different from feelings of stress or worry.
Clinical anxiety and stress have many things in common. I recognize that feelings of intense stress can be very difficult to manage and have potential negative consequences in our life. Despite this, the impact of clinical anxiety is still out of proportion to that of stress. If you are unsure if you are experiencing clinical anxiety or stress, reflect on the intensity, frequency and impact of your experiences. For both stress and clinical anxiety, it can very helpful to see a therapist for guidance on how to manage your symptoms and some effective coping skills.