Recognizing When It Is More Than Stress

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Harvard Medical School
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Chrome 2001

Recognizing When It Is More Than Stress

What Is Stress?
Recognizing When It Is More Than Stress
Recognizing When It Is More Than Stress
People with anxiety disorders feel fearful, uneasy or distressed although there may or may not be obvious reason for their fears.
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Recognizing When It Is More Than Stress

It is normal to be nervous in stressful situations. But stressors, such as the breakup of a marriage or the loss of a loved one, can make existing psychological problems worse or lead to a new problem. For example, stress often aggravates or triggers depression.

Stress is also commonly associated with anxiety disorders. People with anxiety disorders feel fearful, uneasy or distressed even when there is not an obvious reason for it. Psychotherapy, medications or both can help relieve this distress.

The most common stress-related anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People who worry a lot and are nervous almost every day for six months or more may have generalized anxiety disorder. This is especially true if the worry seems to exceed what the situation warrants. Worries may be over money, health, work or safety issues, or they may be more general.

People with generalized anxiety disorder typically experience three or more of these symptoms:

  • Restelessness
  • Fatigue (even without much exertion)
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Tense muscles
  • Poor sleep

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition brought on by an exceptionally traumatic event, one that is relived, sometimes with intrusive thoughts, intense memories or nightmares. Likely candidates include:

  • People who have served in wars
  • Victims of natural disasters, crime or violent acts
  • Those who have been threatened with serious injury, illness or death

People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder frequently avoid situations and places that remind them of the trauma. They can experience a numbing of their emotions, and often feel detached from others. They have persistent symptoms that include:

  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance
  • An exaggerated response to stress

Acute Stress Disorder

People with acute stress disorder generally have experiences and symptoms similar to people with post-traumatic stress disorder, with one exception: Those with acute stress disorder experience the symptoms for a relatively short period of time (under a month). In addition, symptoms begin soon after the traumatic event, whereas those of post-traumatic stress disorder may begin months or even years after the event.


post-traumatic stress disorder,acute,anxiety disorders,generalized anxiety disorder
Last updated April 29, 2014

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