Everyone experiences stress from time to time, and stress is a normal response to everyday pressures. Stress is typically caused by an external trigger or event. When we experience mild stress, it usually feels vague and unpleasant, yet usually doesn’t last long. Stress can even be positive and can motivate us - for instance when we need to make a presentation, have an important meeting, or take an examination. This type of stress response is considered adaptive when its size matches the trigger, is short-lived, and our bodies return to their resting state shortly afterwards. However, if the reaction to stress is exaggerated or persists, or becomes chronic it can occur and produce emotional and physical health problems such as irritability, anger, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, or inflammatory responses. People who frequently experience significant psychological stress usually are less satisfied with their lives, jobs, and their overall happiness.
Anxiety differs from stress and is characterized by persistent, excessive worries or tensions that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor - when the cause of the strain no longer is there. A temporary increase in anxiety enables us to respond to danger and make meaningful change. Sometimes anxiety can be accompanied with changes in moods and physical symptoms such as dizziness or rapid heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension and irritability, and often recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. When anxiety is persists, it may interfere with our ability to function well, and then it becomes an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders typically start in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood and reach their peak in middle age and tend to decrease with older age. Prior to the pandemic about 19% U.S. adults reported having an anxiety disorder in the previous year. Studies show that more than 30% of all adult Americans experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and women experience significantly more anxiety, compared to males.
Sadly, anxiety disorders can last for years or decades and significantly interfere with a person’s daily functioning and activities such as at their jobs, school, and relationships and can worsen over time. Anxiety disorders are very treatable, and psychologists are effective in treating anxiety.