Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another.
Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, nervousness, or fear. The source of this uneasiness is not always known or recognized, which can add to the distress you feel.
Anxiety; Feeling uptight; Stress; Tension; Jitters; Apprehension
Stress is a normal part of life. In small quantities, stress is helpful -- it can motivate you and help you be more productive.
However, too much stress, or a strong response to stress, is harmful. It can set you up for general poor health, as well as physical and psychological illnesses like infection, heart disease, and depression. Ongoing stress can lead to anxiety and unhealthy behaviors like overeating and abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Emotional states like grief or depression, and health conditions like an overactive thyroid, low blood sugar, or heart attack can also cause stress-like symptoms.
Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, including:
Sometimes other symptoms occur with anxiety:
Anxiety may occur as part of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that involve excessive anxiety. They include:
Certain drugs, both recreational and medicinal, can lead to symptoms of anxiety due to either side effects or withdrawal from the drug. Such drugs include:
A poor diet -- for example, low levels of vitamin B12 -- can also contribute to stress or anxiety. In very rare cases, a tumor of the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma) may cause anxiety or stress-like symptoms. The symptoms are caused by an overproduction of hormones responsible for the feelings of anxiety.
The most effective solution is to find and address the source of your stress or anxiety. This can be difficult, because the cause of the anxiety may not be conscious. A first step is to take an inventory of what you think might be making you "stressed out," trying to be as honest with yourself as possible:
Then, find someone you trust (friend, family member, neighbor, clergy) who will listen to you. Often, just talking to a friend or loved one is all that you need to relieve anxiety. Most communities also have support groups and hotlines that can help. Social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists can be very effective in helping you reduce anxiety through therapy or medication.
Also, find healthy lifestyle choices to help you cope with stress. For example:
Your doctor can help you determine if your anxiety would be best evaluated and treated by a mental health care professional.
Call 911 if:
Call your health care provider if:
Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you are taking can cause anxiety as a side effect. Do not stop taking any prescribed medicines without your doctor's instructions.
Your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination, paying close attention to your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
To help better understand your anxiety or stress, your doctor may ask the following questions:
Diagnostic tests may include blood tests and possibly an electrocardiogram (ECG).
If the anxiety is not accompanied by any worrisome physical signs and symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a mental health care professional.
Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy), such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic therapy has been shown to significantly decrease anxiety. In some cases, medications such as antidepressants may be appropriate.
See: Generalized anxiety disorders for more information.
Larzelere MM, Jones GN. Stress and health. Prim Care. 2008;35:839-856.
Ahmed SM, Lemkau JP. Psychosocial influences on health. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 4.
Review Date: 2/22/2010
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