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No, Stress and Anxiety Are Not the Same Thing

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But aren’t stress and anxiety the same thing?

If I tell you I am anxious, please do not say something like, “I know how you feel. School is really stressing me out right now.” OK, you’re stressed and I am not. I am anxious. I’m scared and I’m worried and I can hardly think about tomorrow without panicking about every single life choice I have ever made. And you are stressed.

I am not trying to minimize stress. Before I had anxiety, stress about school was a constant presence in my life. I know how it feels to be so concerned and overwhelmed with homework and tests and presentations and projects that you don’t even know where to start. But let me tell you, stress is nothing like anxiety.

Sure, I can be stressed because I’m anxious or get anxious from all the stress. But, when people try to sympathize with me, saying they know what my anxiety feels like when they really don’t, it takes all of my willpower to not lecture about the distinct differences between stress and anxiety.

I will try to refrain from spouting medical definitions and dictionary entries to explain why your stress and my anxiety have little in common. Stress is usually related to a certain upcoming event or specific tasks that someone has to complete, sometimes related to deadlines for such tasks. Anxiety can be about said events/tasks, but is usually about something more beneath the surface, something irrational and highly unlikely to occur. You get stressed about an algebra test. I get anxiety about failing all my classes and then dropping out of school and having to become a garbage collector. See? Your stress makes sense. My anxiety is anything but logical.

When some people get a “B” on a test, they stress that their grade will drop. When I get a “B” on a test, I fear for my entire future.

When most people raise their hands in class, they are thinking about the answer they are about to give or the question they are about to ask. When I raise my hand in class, my mind is overflowing with all of the possible things that could go wrong when I open my mouth to speak.

When most people walk through the halls, they probably don’t pay much attention to the people around them. When I walk through the hallways, I notice each and every facial expression and question each move I make, positive that all the people around me are judging my every step.

You might not see how important it is to understand the difference between stress and anxiety, but I can assure you there is nothing worse than someone saying something incompetent about anxiety. This is not a little school stress I have. This is something that creeps into my everyday life and haunts me in my sleep. You can eventually find a reprise from your stress. I am stuck with this anxiety.

So no, stress and anxiety are not the same thing.

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Thinkstock photo via Tilly Gops

Originally published: October 2, 2017
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