Stress and anxiety are closely related – most people who have one also have the other. Anxiety is one of the emotions that occurs when you perceive that you’re in danger but feel that you can’t do anything about it. The danger could be anything from physical harm to committing a social blunder and feeling embarrassed. And the threat doesn’t have to be real— anxiety results from the perception of danger. You might jump to conclusions about an upcoming event, such as meeting an important work or school deadline, and be unable to get it out of your mind. Preoccupied, you begin worrying (awfulizing), and negative thoughts race through your mind. You feel your heart start to race, your muscles tense, and you become irritable. You snap at people, lose concentration, and soon you’re feeling like you’ve lost control.
There’s a difference between anxiety – as described above – and being concerned. Concern means having a moderate, appropriate degree of stress, which keeps you alert and helps you rise to the occasion and solve problems. Full-blown anxiety, on the other hand, is unproductive. It leads only to thinking and acting desperately without bothering to check out whether your catastrophic perceptions are really accurate.
Some people who are stressed or anxious and feeling that the world is a dangerous place that can’t be controlled lose hope and slip into a state of depression. People who experience depression feel down in the dumps more often than not because they view themselves as worthless (labeling) and the future as bleak (jumping to conclusions). They also lose interest in activities and people they once enjoyed. Depression is different from sadness or disappointment, which are a normal part of life. When you’re sad or disappointed, you’re able to get back on track after a little while, think things through, and realize that the unpleasant situation will pass with time.
When you’re depressed, however, you don’t feel motivated to help yourself. You can’t focus on anything but the negative side of yourself and the future. You blame yourself for everything and feel as if you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. You might also have crying spells, lose your appetite, have trouble sleeping, become socially isolated, and perhaps have thoughts of harming yourself. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you need to seek advice from your doctor as soon as possible.
Anger is another basic human emotion that we all experience from time to time. It occurs when we perceive that we have been purposely mistreated, disrespected, injured, or challenged or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from meeting our personal goals. When we become angry, feelings of hostility boil to the surface and we have urges to act aggressively and destructively. Anger can lead to violence and alienate you from friends, coworkers, and family members, who might come to see you as dangerous or a “loose cannon.” But people differ in how easily they become angry, the intensity of their anger, what they do when they’re angry, and how long their angry spells last. Having very strict personal “rules” or “standards” for how others must behave and how situations should play out is often associated with anger problems, especially if you feel you can’t stand it when these rules aren’t followed. After all, in the real world we can’t always expect people to do what we want when we want it.
While out-of- control anger leads to emotions and behaviors that intensify stress, mild anger, such as temporarily feeling peeved or annoyed, can help you deal with stress. That’s because short-term mild anger helps you stay focused and assertive – rather than aggressive – with other people.