Stress is a short-term response to an external threat. Anxiety disorders are long-term and are in response to an unidentifiable trigger. These conditions are closely related and can show up with similar symptoms. Applying healthy coping techniques can help you improve distressing mental health symptoms and avoid substance abuse. Addiction and mental health disorders that co-occur often require treatment in a specialized program for dual diagnosis.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal reaction to things that are troubling. A person’s stress level can vary depending on the issue. For instance, realizing you forgot your wallet at home while standing in front of a full grocery cart in a busy supermarket can be pretty frustrating. Not only was time wasted, but the staff will have to put back all the items. This scenario is relatively minor, but what if you were laid off or were robbed? Financial stress can be more disruptive to your daily life and well-being.
Additionally, the stress level associated with a particular event is not the same for everyone. People who have an anxiety disorder are facing multiple stressors at one time. Perhaps they are also in addiction recovery and may react more strongly to relatively minor stressors.
Response to a Threat
As the examples suggest, stress can stir up as a response to external stimuli. Once that stressor is resolved, the reactive feelings should dissipate. Stress may feel uncomfortable, but it can sometimes be beneficial. When you care about something, you might feel butterflies in your stomach telling you it’s time to get moving. This feeling can be a powerful motivator to get things done.
Severe or chronic stress can lead to anxiety. The symptoms of both conditions overlap considerably. The following symptoms are typical of stress and anxiety:
- Trouble sleeping
- Excessive worry
- High blood pressure
- Overeating or undereating
- Tight neck and shoulders
How Is Anxiety Different?
Anxiety is a bit more nuanced.
Anxiety is a psychological (mind) and physiological (body) reaction to stress that won’t go away. The main difference between anxiety and stress is that there is typically no immediate threat that can be identified as triggering anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, anxiety can sometimes be traced to something that has caused traumatic stress in the past. Unresolved trauma can continue to drive anxiety symptoms years after the incident, indicating a disorder may be present.
How You Might Feel
Even if your day is going well, you might constantly feel on edge or unable to relax. You may have overwhelming feelings of worry or dread. Complaints of not being able to fall asleep are typical amongst those with anxiety, as well as not being able to concentrate despite the absence of distractions.
Stress Is One Cause of Anxiety Disorders
Stress can grow into a major problem. The way you think and react to situations can start to change. It’s critical to manage your stressors because stress can lead to anxiety, and frequent anxiety can turn into an anxiety disorder. Some common types include:
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This can impact your physical health and relationships as well. Uncontrolled stress is a leading trigger for relapse among those in recovery and is a key reason people start using drugs and alcohol in the first place.
Anxiety disorders are not only caused by stress. It is believed that the following factors can all play a role:
- Traumatic experiences
- Brain biology and chemistry
- Personality traits like shyness
- Physical and social environment
- Family history of mental health disorders
- Medical health conditions, such as thyroid problems
How Do People Cope?
Some people will find that a daily routine of the following self-care activities is enough to keep them mentally and emotionally healthy:
- Quiet time
- Social time
- Good sleep
- Staying hydrated
- Regular, healthy meals
- Abstaining from addictive substances
- Taking needed vitamins and minerals
For others, however, these things may barely keep them afloat. They might struggle, even when all their basic needs are met. If you have been using substances to deal with mental health problems, treatment in an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization program may be needed.
Why Enter a Treatment Program?
Receiving treatment for anxiety disorders and substance abuse is vital because both conditions reinforce each other. For example, if you’ve started drinking alcohol to relieve stress, you’re not actually dealing with the problem. As your drinking problem progresses, your ability to cope with stressors will decline. Alcohol abuse can cause you to become easily agitated while sober, worsening an existing anxiety disorder. Treating both conditions simultaneously helps break this cycle.
Learning New Strategies
The triggers that individuals with anxiety disorders have can vary significantly. Some are set off by people in their lives that they have a rocky relationship with. Others are dealing with the remnants of trauma and can’t handle being in certain situations like noisy, crowded spaces. A clinician can guide you in learning new coping mechanisms that are specific to your troubles. You can carry this knowledge with you and apply it before stress becomes overwhelming.
Stress is a mental and physical response a person has to something that has thrown life off balance. Poorly managed stressors and other causes can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder and addiction to substances. Treating these conditions at the same time is crucial to stopping the cycle. West Coast Recovery Centers is a nationally accredited drug, alcohol, and behavioral health rehabilitation center in Southern California. Our primary services are intensive outpatient care and partial hospitalization. We offer a variety of traditional and holistic methods to help clients navigate their personal rehabilitation journey from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our clinicians work to empower clients by giving them practical tools to apply in their everyday lives. With the help of a dedicated team of professionals, our clients will improve their mental and physical well-being. Call (760) 492-6509 to learn more.