The ‘Just Stress’ Fallacy, and When It’s More Than Worry
The world we live in is busy and full of information, making it really hard to know what is going on. We have news channels telling stories of the state of the world, social media populating our mind with articles about everything we could possibly care about. We have to balance our personal lives with our professional lives to find a way to lead a fulfilling, satisfying, and reliable life for ourselves, our families, and our loved ones.
I personally find myself a bit overwhelmed, and I know that the stress that I feel in my life can be a healthy motivator, but it can also have extensive negative impacts. I’ve heard it many times – don’t worry; what you’re feeling is “just stress,” but there’s no “just” in stress. It’s a complex response, and we shouldn’t ignore those feelings.
A healthy amount of stress keeps us motivated to meet timelines, exceed standards, or maintain efficiency. This is natural, and we should try our best to meet our stress with a positive mental attitude. Under regular stress, it can be easy to want to revert to previously used coping mechanisms.
For those recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, regular exposure to overly stressful situations makes it more likely to relapse. We can’t allow anxiety and fear to rule our lives. I know that my life is worth more than being dominated by these negative emotions, and so is yours. Take control of your worry, anxiety, and stress and regain the freedom to live your life freely, to live a life of passion and freedom.
A lot of people in life, including myself, simply feel anxious in certain situations in which we may be apprehensive about an uncertain event. The emotion of anxiousness is different from a full-on anxiety disorder. It is important to differentiate between the two for multiple reasons.
Primarily, we need to know the difference to assess our own emotional state and determine if we are feeling exposed to situations that make us feel anxious or if we are suffering from an anxiety disorder that is embedded in us. Differentiation between the two is also important for understanding the behavior of others and getting a more full idea of what others are going through.
What Is Anxiety Disorder?
Those who suffer from anxiety disorders not only experience occasional anxiety as a normal part of life but will frequently be in a state of intense, excessive, and pervading worry and fear about the different parts of everyday situations. Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders have repeated episodes of intense terror and fear that will come to a peak in a short period of time. These experiences are known as “panic attacks,” and I have seen someone having a panic attack; they are sincerely struggling and in a truly tough state.
In the United States, nearly 20% of adults struggle with a mental health disorder, and anxiety disorders are the most common. So, I know that there is a good chance that a reasonably large number of the people in my life may be suffering from anxiety disorders. Depending on the severity and how strong of a facade people can display, it may be more clearly displayed in some people than in others.
Feelings of panic and fear-driven by an underlying anxiety disorder are debilitating and can interfere with daily activities. For those suffering from anxiety disorders, these emotions are difficult to control and are inflated to be out of proportion to the associated situation.
Though danger may be present, the response of someone with an anxiety disorder may be to feel overwhelmingly threatened. Because of the intensity of the emotions present, people with anxiety disorders may avoid certain places, activities, situations, or entire communities in an attempt to avoid any episodes or exposure to potential triggers.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are a handful of different types of anxiety disorders, some of which you may have heard of and some of which I know were new to me. The different types are:
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where you fear and avoid situations where you may feel like you do not have complete control or have the potential to feel embarrassed in front of others, especially in large spaces or crowds.
Anxiety Disorder Due to a Medical Condition
Certain medical conditions can result in intense anxiety or panic. Some of these include hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmia, respiratory disorders, brain tumors, or severe vitamin B deficiency.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This anxiety disorder encompasses persistent anxiety regarding activities or events that are considered ordinary or routine. The concern that you show towards these events would be out of proportion to the real circumstances.
Panic disorder is the repeated occurrence of sudden feelings of intense fear and anxiety that peak within a few minutes. These are known as panic attacks, and alongside them come heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or intense emotions of impending doom.
While this anxiety disorder is most common in children, I felt it should be mentioned here anyways. Selective mutism is the regular failure for children to speak in certain situations when they can in others. Commonly, children are unable to talk at school, but they have no issues talking at home. This can lead to social and developmental issues if not addressed.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety is also typically a childhood disorder, but it can be the root cause for the development of another anxiety disorder later in life. This disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety related to separation from parents or other loved ones.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social phobia is identified by extreme levels of anxiety and fear resulting in avoidance of social situations due to primarily a lack of self-confidence. Emotions associated with social phobia include embarrassment, self-consciousness, or concern about judgments from others.
Some phobias are popularly attributed to fears that we may have, like arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders. When it comes to the context of anxiety disorders, certain phobias may provoke panic attacks and are characterized by more than a general fear of the object or situation but by severe anxiety and panic.
Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
An anxiety disorder may develop as a direct result of overusing or misusing medical or recreational substances, as well as during withdrawal from substances. Oftentimes, the affected individual will believe wholeheartedly that the associated anxiety can only be remedied by returning to their drug use or using more when, in reality, this only worsens the condition.
Some people may suffer from one of these disorders (such as a specific phobia), while others may find that they experience compounding effects of having several of these anxiety disorders. As someone who suffers from any amount of these anxiety disorders in differing situations, recovering from alcohol and drug use may become complicated and challenging. There are ways to address anxiety, and some anxiety may result in a medical condition that needs treatment.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Signs of anxiety disorders can start to present themselves early on in life, as young as with elementary school kids and teenagers. Oftentimes, these symptoms will transfer into adulthood as habituation of thought processes that have set in at an early age and may sculpt our interpersonal and social behaviors.
There are some common signs that we are experiencing chronic anxiety, including:
- Constantly feeling restless or tense
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling lethargic, weak, or chronically tired
- Experiencing digestive or gastrointestinal problems
- Avoiding potential triggers
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- A sense of impending doom or chronic panic
Some of these symptoms may come as a surprise to you, while others you likely expected. I know when I think of anxiety disorders or panic attacks, I expect certain things from this list like increased heart rate, feeling tense, or hyperventilation, but I forget about the effects that stress and anxiety can have on our bodily functions as well.
Remember, our organ systems and the peripheral nervous system are connected by a complex system of neural networks. Anxiety, stress, and other emotions are communicated throughout the body by these networks, and your organs will respond to panic by being in a panicked state as well. On the contrary, an individual who is mentally and emotionally healthy with a positive mental attitude will experience relaxed organ processes and bodily functions.
There are other reasons that some of these symptoms may arise, and spending time being honest with yourself can help you to pinpoint what the root cause of your symptoms may be. For example, you may be having trouble sleeping because you do not get enough physical exercise, not because you have an anxiety disorder.
Do I Have Anxiety Disorder?
Considering the possibility that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder may bring you some stress, and understandably so. Any type of medical “disorder” is pretty daunting, and it is hard to bring ourselves to want to identify with it. However, identifying your disorder is the first step in bringing it into the light and being able to take steps to finding resolve and quelling the symptoms of our anxiety.
I know that I can clear my mind and identify issues in my life by breaking down the details of my experiences and reflecting on my life. Consider starting a journaling process. Write daily, weekly, hourly, whatever frequency seems like where you want to start. Write down what you did that day, how you felt while doing it, and how you feel after doing it.
Compare your emotions that you experienced in the situation and how you handled it to how you think you wanted to handle it. Also, think about how your emotions, judgments, or actions in the situation compare to the standards you would hold for other people in your shoes. If, through the reflection process, you find that you are regularly being exorbitant in your emotional responses and in a chronic state of stress and fear, you may have an anxiety disorder.
There are also a number of questionnaires online to try and identify anxiety disorders, but their consistency is in question. They are dependent again on your ability to be fully genuine in your responses, and being honest with ourselves can be extremely challenging at times. I always suggest you seek professional help to assess your anxiety with your primary care physician, a psychiatrist or mental health professional.
How to Calm Stress and Anxiety
No matter what type of chronic stress or anxiety disorder you may be experiencing, some steps can be made to help. Depending on the severity of your anxiety disorder, you may be able to make progress towards finding resolution through committed personal work, or you may need the help of an outsider. Medical professionals have a lot of experience to draw from in managing emotional disorders, and members of your community or support system can help you process your emotions externally to learn more about managing your disorder.
Mindfulness practices build mental fortitude, improve our constitution, and help us normalize our emotional responses to interpersonal situations as they may arise. Mindfulness practices are characterized by their goal of being completely present and in the moment, not living in fear of the future or regret of the past. By engaging in mindfulness techniques, you may be able to find the resolve to components of your chronic stress or anxiety disorder.
Like any muscle or skill, mindfulness takes practice to use and requires strength to be built up over time. I know I can begin to feel frustrated with my inability to focus or find myself thinking
about appointments and tasks I need to attend to, but I also know that re-centering my focus on the mindfulness activity is more beneficial than being caught up in the future.
Emotional Intelligence for Recovery and Mental Health
Overall, stress and anxiety can be mended and managed by living a healthy lifestyle and making conscious choices about our lives. For example, we can focus on our emotional intelligence, emotional sobriety in building constitution similar to how we can use emotional intelligence to assist in addiction recovery. If you need someone to talk to, reach out.
As always, stay strong!