As August comes to a close and we creep towards the end of the year, I find myself much busier, and thus regularly stretched thin and occasionally on edge. This time of year tends to be more chaotic in general—we say goodbye to cosy nights in, and start preparing for longer days, end of year travel, and getting reorganised to finish the year off with a bang. And while it's definitely normal to feel stressed, and much of said stress is unavoidable, it's worth noting that sometimes it's actually a precursor of something deeper: anxiety.
While stress and anxiety exist on the same spectrum and may look and feel a lot alike, they're actually pretty different entities, and treating them accordingly is key to coming up with effective coping mechanisms. As licensed clinical social worker Katie Hurley explains, stress is our bodily reaction to the pressures and tasks we encounter during daily life. By nature, it isn't necessarily damaging. In fact, sometimes it can actually motivate us to adapt and work through those daily stressors more swiftly.
But when stress sticks around too long and starts taking a toll on our physical and mental health, it becomes quite damaging. That's where anxiety enters the picture, the key distinction being that it's ongoing and perceived as opposed to being tied to a specific action or obligation. As psychotherapist Noah Kass tells The Cut, "Stress is usually about the present," while "anxiety is often about a perceived worry about the future."
Since being in a constant state of anxiety is neither comfortable nor sustainable, getting to the bottom of it is definitely worthwhile. How can you tell the difference, and why does it matter? Kass recommends asking yourself these two questions to get to the bottom of it:
"Are the emotions I'm experiencing based on a specific event? Or is there no identifiable cause?"
Another way to figure out if you're feeling anxiety is whether it interferes significantly with your daily life. Once you know if it's anxiety and not just stress, that means it's time to address the issue, as anxiety doesn't typically just disappear on its own. There are plenty of ways to cope with the anxiety, including simple lifestyle changes like getting more sleep, exercising, reaching out to your support system, or seeking professional help.