The differences between anxiety and distress

Concepts such as anxiety, distress and stress have spread currently. It seems common for ourselves or someone around us to have suffered from these issues at some point. It wouldn’t be hard to agree that they all refer to unpleasant states, which can range from momentary discomfort to widespread fear or terror, which can range from overwhelming to overwhelming on a daily basis.

Beyond understanding them as problems, do we know the differences between each concept? Is it possible that the confusion between the terms makes it difficult for us to discuss them?

It is intended to provide information on the origin and nuances of each concept and the differences between anxiety, distress and their relationship to stress, To clarify the ideas that we have and perhaps, to shed light on how to deal with each of them.

    Fear as an adaptive resource

    We humans have natural resources to protect us from danger, sometimes known as adaptive anxiety or fear. It would be like a tool that acts as a warning sign of danger. For example, imagine the following situation:

    “We are walking quietly down an avenue, and we hear cries of terror and we see people running in one direction. Without thinking, we are running faster than ever, looking for a place to take refuge.”

    In this situation, the interpretation of the dangers was automaticAs it generated the sympathetic nervous system (NHS) response, a key activation in so-called “E-situations” (escape, stress, emergency). When the NHS is activated, hormones are released, among other elements, to increase blood pressure (such as cortisol) and neurotransmitters to prepare for explosive muscle action (catecholamines such as adrenaline, norprinefine and dopamine) which enable this escape reaction and therefore protection against a dangerous situation. At this point, fear protects us from imminent danger and therefore, they have significant functional value.

    In front of this situation, Are we acting out of fear or anxiety? The main difference between the two is that anxiety is related to anticipation, that is, to future dangers, diffuse or unforeseeable, while fear is related to one or more stimuli or situations present.

    Now, what if this adaptive mechanism is tied to stimuli or situations that do not present real danger or threat? Despite the individual differences and the particular way of life of each person, if the generalized fear or the anxious state is maintained and intensified, as much in duration as in frequency, generates negative consequences for overall health of the person to be treated.

    Differences between anxiety and anxiety

    At the beginning of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud was the first to introduce the concept of anxiety technically. He used the German term Angst to denote a state of mind, with a negative affect, with a consequent physiological activation and, above all, based on something indeterminate, that is to say without a known or definable object.

    This concept has been translated into English as Anxiety and Spanish it was translated with a double meaning: anxiety and distress. From this, one could understand that the two concepts appear as synonyms, in non-clinical fields, until today, used to describe an unpleasant psychophysiological state, which runs with great restlessness, restlessness, agitation in the face of inaccurate dangers. and / or that generate an exaggerated and unsuitable fear for everyday life.

    Although used colloquially as a synonym, in the current clinical field, the distinction between anxiety and anxiety appears. The most widely used tool internationally for the classification of mental disorders is the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which includes a section on anxiety disorders.

    This manual deals with anxiety as a subtype of anxiety disorders. In this sense, anxiety is defined as what is commonly called a “panic attack”, Explained as an episode of intense fear of short duration. Conversely, anxiety refers to a condition that lasts longer.

    Anxiety can be prevalent in several events or can manifest itself in different areas and for different reasons or causes. At this stage, the various known phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias of a specific stimulus …) would be motivated by anxiety but would be differentiated according to the manifestations or triggers.

    Anxiety as such, beyond the nuances or explanations provided by the different currents of Psychology (psychoanalysis, gestalt, cognitive-behavioral …) must be understood from its complexity, because it includes a response multidimensional. That means it includes cognitive, emotional and physiological aspects, Characterized by an activation of the autonomic nervous system (formed by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system) which generally generates maladaptive behaviors and can sometimes lead to a high risk for the sufferer.

      Stress: a set of physical, psychological and social ailments

      Once the concepts of anxiety and distress have been explained, the concept of stress can be understood which can include the above. In summary, stress could be understood as a negative relationship between the person and the environment. This inadequate relationship between the environment and the person is dynamic, two-way and changing, but its core is that the person perceives that he cannot cope with environmental demands.

      The situation is understood as a set of factors which exceeds the available resources themselves. At this point, the person may develop anxiety, distress, and other various physical and psychological problems, which they would have in common the generation of a deep unease.

      The complexity of the relationship between the person and the environment means that anxiety, distress and stress are approached from a broad perspective and taking into account the multiplicity of factors involved (physiological, cognitive, emotional, social. ..).

      Considering the influence of social factors in the implication of these problems which are already beginning to be known as “diseases of the twenty-first century”, it is the responsibility of all people who know each other, to detect them and to work on their care, in particular in the prevention of the same. If a person perceives some kind of related problem, either in himself or in someone around him, it is advisable to treat symptoms, seek help and as soon as possible, To prevent them from generating more serious consequences.

        Bibliographical references:

        • American Psychiatric Association. “DSM-V Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. Washington: APA (2013).
        • Martínez Sánchez, F. and García, C. (1995). Emotion, stress and adaptation. In A. Pont (Ed.), Basic Psychology: An Introduction to the Study of Human Behavior (pp. 497-531). Madrid: Pyramid.
        • Serra, Joan Carles, Virgili Ortega and Ihab Zubeidat. “Anxiety, anxiety and stress: three concepts to differentiate yourself”. Journal of Discomfort and Subjectivity 3.1 (2003).

        Leave a Comment