I feel that a lot of people get anxiety and stress confused. Sure, they both sound like similar afflictions, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Stress is something that we all feel, usually in response to something that makes us uncomfortable. For example, an upcoming exam could be stressful because we do not know for sure what is on that exam, or if we have studied all the material that is necessary to pass it. Anxiety, however, is very much a different thing, and I would go so far as to say that it is more of a medical condition.
Of course, is very difficult for people who do not suffer from anxiety to understand what exactly it feels like. There are so many possible symptoms of anxiety that one cannot simply summarize it by its symptoms alone. To give a quick example, it is a common misconception that a panic attack is when somebody begins to hyperventilate and lose control of themselves. While that is one type of panic attack, and it is true that many people do react that way in response to their anxiety disorder, there are many different other kinds of panic attacks. Someone suddenly overheating terribly and feeling as if they need to throw all of their clothes off, even when it is not warm in the room, can be a panic response. A panic attack is just a very extreme reaction to anxiety, and that is really all that can be said about that matter in particular without over generalizing.
In order for one to actually understand what anxiety is compared to stress, we must keep in mind that all humans have a flight or fight response. Is something that is ingrained in us and passed down through Evolution. It is what has helped us survive and evolve all this time, and it helps us in our daily lives to this day. When we are faced with stress, like that exam for instance, we know we must either study for it, or just give up completely. It is very simple to do either one, and therefore we are only stressed out. We can fight the exam through studying, or we can just simply concede defeat and not study at all. We could even drop the class if we so choose. We are uncomfortable, but we do not have anxiety. We have a solution to our problem that we can act upon, and that is solvable by our own means.
Now, here is the main difference between Stress and Anxiety. Anxiety is the response that we have when a fight-or-flight response is triggered, but we can do neither. Whether or not we are missing the means to fight it or it is all in our own mind does not matter. Mental illness doesn't have to be rational, so perhaps one could fight it yet their own afflictions are keeping them back from doing so. We could also just not have the means, because fighting back in every situation is not possible. The same goes for flight. We cannot run away from every problem, and there are some things that we simply cannot give up on or avoid in life. When you can neither fight something nor run away from it, anxiety takes over and begins to consume you. You panic, and it hurts whomever it affects tremendously.
In order to explain a little more accurately, I will begin to get into my own personal case. I have been diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist with what is known as situational anxiety. It is different than generalized anxiety disorder because it is caused by a certain environment or life situation. Once I am away from that environment or that situation ends, the anxiety will be alleviated and no longer be a problem for me. For me that environment happens to be my own home, and the situation is that I am 27 years old, currently disabled, unable to work, and have no income. That is probably over simplifying things; what is needed to have some background into my source of anxiety. One of the most prominent sources of my anxiety is specifically the topic of income.
Without telling my entire life story, I did have to drop out of 4 year college because of a bad case of anemia. After my recovery I began to work and was making very little money. I had decided to go back to college after almost a year of working, and despite my worsening physical and mental health, I continued on with my education. It was only when I got to the very last credit needed for graduation, English literature, that I realized that I had a huge issue with the class. It actually triggered anxiety in me, where I had night terrors, extreme chest pain, and terrible dizzy spells. I was trying my best to fight, but was losing the battle. I absolutely did not want to flee, because all I wanted was to finally graduate. Either way, no option was possible because I could not mentally handle the symptoms I was suffering from taking that class. Though in the end I did have to drop the class, and subsequently tried and dropped two more times, flight was never considered an option for me until the very last moment. Then it was the guilt that I could neither fight nor flee from, along with the overwhelming feeling of failure.
When it was clear that I could no longer continue my education and I could not work, that is when I began to look into signing up for disability. It did take a very long time to come to terms with the word. Disabled sounds so negative. I felt ashamed, and almost as if everything was my fault, though I know all of it was out of my control. When I did finally muster up the courage to apply, I felt a sense of relief knowing that perhaps I would get a little bit of financial aid to help me move out someday. When my application was denied I couldn't have been more crushed. I did not have enough work credits because I had chosen to go back to school instead of working, and because my health was so poor during that time, I had quit my job in favor of going to college. The only way to possibly get more work credits would be to get a job, but that was exactly why I had chosen to apply for disability in the first place. I obviously would never graduate college, and I couldn't work, so I needed help.
And here we have the biggest conundrum of all. How can I gain work credit if I cannot work? Simply put, it's impossible. I am stuck in a terrible situation, one which I can either fight, because I cannot work and get those work credits comma and because rules are rules. There's no way around the work credit problem, so there is no way to fight it. I can't just flee either, because there is nothing to flee from. How can I run away from all my troubles? Do I become homeless? Clearly, I would never want that to be an option, so I continued to stay at home with my parents. It is an absolutely miserable life though, because I have no sense of independence.
I cannot drive a car due to my anxiety and the medication that I take. I'm not allowed to operate heavy machinery. I tried to learn how to drive, and just ended up getting screamed at by the instructor. Trying to drive with my boyfriend got me screamed at by my boyfriend. It is clear I'm just not competent enough to drive, or maybe my brain is too addled to focus on it. Either way, it is not an option for me.
I can no longer sculpt with clay or cast in resin because of the mess involved. There is no work space in my house where I can do either of those things that I used to love so much. Previously, my parents were unaware of the process that I would go through because I did everything in the morning hours while they were asleep. It was an accidental awakening that clued them in to what exactly I was doing, and how it could possibly damage the surrounding area. Even though I insist that I am neat, I can no longer do either of these things. I could potentially work in the garage, but once again, there are problems. There is no room whatsoever to work because there's too much being stored there. I would also need to open the door for ventilation, which could be potentially dangerous in the middle of the night. Our neighborhood is a prime area for car robbery, and I do not want to be out in the open like that.
I tried painting on canvas, but none of my paintings sold. That was very disheartening and I no longer feel like doing any more paintings. I don't cope very well with failure.
I wanted to raise dragonfruit cacti, but my parents did not allow me to bring my cactus into the house this year because it was way too large, and it died due to the cold weather in the garage. That was six years of nurture and around $200 worth of actual cactus and trellis wasted. It absolutely broke my heart.
I have taken up an interest in frogs, and proposed raising a few in order to start a breeding operation. In order to do so, I would have to keep each frog for about a year until they are mature enough to go through the breeding process. By then, I would hope, I would somehow have moved out so my parents would not have to deal with the breeding. There is no room to do that anyway, as I previously have stated. They absolutely will not allow a frog in the house, not even in the garage if I rigged it with heating.
Every potential thing that I want to do is blocked from me somehow. I do not have the means to fight. To be honest, I don't know if I even have the strength anymore. I've suffered from depression since puberty, because unfortunately the case I have is hereditary and comes from both sides of my family. I feel like all of the restrictions I have on my life through my parents, my health, and just society in general, are causing my depression to come back in full force. Still, the most prominent thing that I am suffering from is the anxiety. The anxiety is absolutely terrible.
I have no income. I cannot work. I cannot make art in my spare time to possibly sell. I cannot start new hobbies that might potentially lead to money. Even hobbies that I was into previously have been destroyed, like my cactus. I am stuck, constantly stuck in this fight or flight mode, always dealing with the symptoms of anxiety. I wake up at night and don't know what to do with myself. I cannot fall asleep some nice. The chest pains, the dizziness, the lack of appetite, the voracious hunger, the racing thoughts, the feeling of being a caged animal, I absolutely cannot take it.
I am not stressed out. I have anxiety. I have it badly, and I feel like I am slowly being defined by it. It has made me want to avoid contact with people. It has made me unable to fall asleep without the aid of a sedatitive, because being alone with my own thoughts eventually leads me into a panic. It has taken the fun out of my hobbies because I can no longer focus on them without having the worrying and pain of knowing tomorrow will be no different gnawing at the back of my mind. It has kept me from keeping up completely with my personal hygiene because sometimes I feel too dizzy to stand in the shower. I still try my best, but some days I just fall asleep in my clothes, and others I don't change out of my pajamas for the entire day.
In summary, anxiety is horrible. It is so much different than stress. It is an all-encompassing mental affliction that saps away your being... and I feel like I am fading away more than ever.