Being able to recognize when you are stressed and anxious, and knowing how to handle it when you are under the pressure that they bring, can greatly help your state of mind and your happiness in life. In these series of articles we’ll explore the differences between stress, anxiety, and depression, and I’ll show you the most effective techniques and strategies I found to nip it in the bud early on, so you can gain back the control and enjoyment of your life.
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. In fact, there’s probably rarely a day that goes by that you aren’t stressed in some minor way – getting stuck in traffic, running late for an appointment, worry about getting that order in on time, going through a job interview.
Whatever it is, stress is an everyday part of our lives. For most people it is fleeting, or in the moment stress … the type that pops up when we come across something that puts certain outside demands on us. For others its a daily pressure that starts to weigh you down and inevitably starts to affect your sleep patterns and state of mind.
So what is the difference between stress, anxiety, and depression? The distinction I make between them is this …
As mentioned, stress is an everyday part of our lives and a normal reaction to a situation where you feel under pressure. It’s part of our primal “fight or flight” response and is intended to keep us safe and alive. These days we don’t need to outrun animals that are trying to kill us like our primitive ancestors probably had to, but the response to stressful situations still creates similar feelings and chemical reactions in our bodies and brains.
Some other examples of stress are – trouble meeting work deadlines, public speaking, sitting exams, worry over loved ones etc. Sometimes the stressors come from an outside source (like being stuck in traffic or coping with annoying co-workers) and sometimes they are internal (brought about by an overly active imagination or irrational thinking).
Anxiety, however, is still having those feelings of stress long after the actual offending event has passed. This constant feeling of being stressed, even though there no longer exists an imminent stressful situation you have to deal with, is what is classed as anxiety. These feelings sit just under the surface and manifest themselves in you as a continuous daily uneasiness, apprehension, or fearful feeling in the pit of your stomach or chest, particularly when you’re placed constantly in similar situations or have the fear of doing so.
A constant worry over finances is a good example of everyday worry that many people carry around with them, and one that bubbles away just under the surface. Over time this stress seats itself in as anxiety.
While money worries is a common concern it is by no means the only one. Worry over loved ones, friendships, bullies, job pressures, a tyrant of a boss, etc, are all examples of ongoing stressed feelings that’s classed as anxiety. The anxious feelings can be a daily constant one or come on for no apparent reason, such as in panic attacks.
Depression is more than just feeling down. I used to suffer with depression for many years and it’s a debilitating and horrible place to be – very dark and lonely, interspersed with feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of not wanting to continue. Suicide has crossed my mind on occasion in the past.
While it’s not a very nice subject to talk about, too many people suffer in silence with this. Even if you haven’t suffered from deep depression as I have, you no doubt would have felt what a low mood is like.
Depression, however, is more than just a low mood. While nearly all of us will feel sad, moody, or down from time to time, people who are depressed have these feelings much more intensely and for longer periods of time, often for weeks, months, and even years. They find it hard to function every day and its as if the enjoyment has been sucked out of their life.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses we have in society today, and it has been estimated that one in five people will experience it at some stage in their life.
Dealing with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
While this is by no means a comprehensive and complete explanation of the differences between stress, anxiety, and depression, it does give you some idea of how they relate.
One of the important discoveries I made that helped me a lot, was this …
Stress is usually a precursor to anxiety, and anxiety is usually a precursor to depression.
What that means is that if you are under stress, if you don’t find ways to release the feelings of stress after the event has passed or learn techniques to cope when under stress, then that underlying worry you carry around with you is likely to be ingrained as anxiety. And then if you suffer from constant anxiety for too long, chances are that you could slip into depression a lot easier. And this often becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to drag yourself out of.
What’s the answer? Learn how to deal with stress and anxiety early on in the cycle and find effective ways to release those feelings. If not, once they have a hold they can affect your happiness and enjoyment of life in very subtle but often destructive ways, just like an insidious virus.
There are quite a few ways to release stress, anxiety, and worry so you can get back to enjoying life, and we’ll explore as many as we can in future articles. There is no one-way that will suit everyone, however, as I found what works for me may not necessarily work for someone else. So that’s why I’ll try to cover as many as I can so you can choose what works for you and apply it.
Until then, as the song used to say … “Don’t worry, be happy now”