Tips with Trish: Is it Anxiety or Just stress?

Dear Trish,

I’ve had some sleepless nights lately and have had more headaches than usual. This has unfortunately led to me miss a few classes and some early morning practices. I think it’s anxiety and I’m just overwhelmed. I have tried to be honest with my professors and my team. Most of them seem pretty supportive, but some are questioning whether my feelings are just related to the stress of college life. I get the feeling they just expect me to get over it. How can I tell if this is just normal stress or some deeper mental health condition?

Signed,
What’s the Difference?

Trish says,

Stress and anxiety share many of the same symptoms, making it hard to tell the difference between them. Stress is your body’s response to a trigger or threat in a given situation. It is typically a short-term experience. Stress can be good or bad. When positive stress kicks in it helps you study for that challenging test, work out harder so you’re ready for the big meet, or make that much needed deadline. You might feel overwhelmed during that time, because stress can also have negative effects like insomnia, inability to focus, or over-thinking. Stress can certainly induce feelings of anxiety.

Anxiety as a mental health condition, however, does involve more than just stress. There are many types of anxiety, including social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety, to name a few. Each of these types manifests itself differently, but they share some similar traits. Clinical anxiety is a sustained mental health disorder that lasts for more than just a few weeks. Anxiety doesn’t fade after the trigger is mediated. It lingers for a long time and actually breeds more anxiety the more one thinks about the next situation or uncomfortable encounter.

Sometimes anxiety rolls over from one specific issue to other things that are unrelated or even unrealistic given all the information one has about a situation. An example of this is when a cross country athlete has a bad run due to fatigue stemming from a temporary illness. It may be unusual for the person to run poorly, so it is naturally upsetting. The next meet comes, the same athlete is healthy and physically prepared, but remembers the past unfortunate event and expects the race to be bad. The anxiety takes over in the form of overthinking, and then the poor outcome is due to the anxiety of the runner. If this was stress and not anxiety, the first event would have been bad but the person would be able to separate the events out and identify that it happened because of the situation.

Navigating the demands of college is by nature, stress-inducing. There are a number of physical and emotional disorders linked to stress, like heart attacks, ulcers, obesity, depression, and anxiety, so it’s important to address the symptoms of stress early on. Some ways to handle stress include deep breathing, practicing mindfulness, getting daily physical exercise and good sleep, and keeping a journal.

These things are good for treating anxiety disorders as well, but if you don’t find relief from these activities, you might need to seek professional help by seeing a counselor and/or taking medication. If the condition feels like it is really interfering with your life and your ability to function socially, physically or academically, call the Loras Counseling Center. You can also come and see us during Mental Illness Awareness Week, as we will be doing mental health screenings on Wednesday, Oct. 17 during common time.

Signed, Trish

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