Stress and anxiety: two different conditions

While students can experience stress and anxiety, some may not know the two are different conditions.

Almost 30 percent of students cited stress as a major academic difficulty, according to the Student Health Center.  Although stress is a temporary condition, letting it go untreated can lead to an anxiety disorder, which has more long-term effects.

Christy Hamilton, mental health coordinator in the Student Health Center, said it’s possible to misdiagnose a person with an anxiety disorder, but it’s not common because the staff are trained with clear-cut guidelines when testing for the condition. She said all of the licensed personnel in the Student Health Center abide by a manual that guides their decisions to make diagnoses.

Hamilton said if an individual’s own techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety aren’t working, professionals at the health center can help them treat the conditions.

Stress can lead to everyday anxiety caused by school, bills, a break-up, public speaking, family issues and more. An anxiety disorder is more serious and reoccurs, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website. The disorder can cause a constant, unsubstantiated worry, seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other harsh problems, according to the website.

Ashley Cain, a senior from Joliet studying psychology, said anxiety is the body’s physical response to stress. Anxiety is the more serious of the two, but both can cause physical damage if they are not treated properly, she said.

Students who feel they are struggling with stress or anxiety are encouraged to talk to a counselor in the Wellness Center, said Jason Gillman, assistant director of the Student Wellness Center. The center offers counselors who can talk with students individually as well as workshops on how to manage stress and work through anxiety.

Gillman said the difference between stress and anxiety is that stress can cause students to worry, but that worry can motivate them to want to do more and feel pressured to get more things done, while anxiety can cause students to fret and feel fearful, preventing them from doing what they need to do because they physically feel incapable.

While students may experience an increased amount of stress once the school year begins, Gillman said new students in particular are affected by it. The first six weeks are a very important time for new students, because this is when students establish drinking habits and their peer groups, he said.

When students first arrive on campus, Gillman said, they begin to establish community with their peers and cope with their new life away from family on a daily basis.

“The first six weeks of any student’s life on campus are the most important because they’re coming away from Mom and Dad and experiencing a world that’s completely different than anything they’ve ever experienced,” Gillman said.

He said the university already has the perception of being a party school, which hurts the students in two ways.

“Either the expectation of the school plays out and students are drinking too much as a stress relief, or the expectation doesn’t play out and the students are going home every weekend,” Gillman said.

He said many SIU students are commuters and tend to go home each weekend to have a break from the stress of campus life.

Darvin Robinson, a junior from Chicago studying psychology, said a majority of his stress comes from school-related issues, but he understands that it’s not anxiety because he makes it a priority to get things done regardless of how he feels.

“I wasn’t meeting the standards that I set forth for myself or living up to my priorities, and the result of that was me not receiving acceptable grades in the classroom,” Robinson said. “The way I dealt with it was by focusing on what matters most, which is me, because at the end of the day you are the only one who determines your future.”

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