Conditions with Similar Symptoms
The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders mirror many symptoms of stress, including:
- A fast heart rate
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Increased muscle tension
Anxiety is an emotional disorder, however, and is characterized by feelings of apprehension, uncertainty, fear, or panic. Unlike stress, the triggers for anxiety are not necessarily or even usually associated with specific stressful or threatening conditions. Some individuals with anxiety disorders have numerous physical complaints, such as headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, dizziness, and chest pain. Severe cases of anxiety disorders are debilitating, interfering with a person's career, family, and social life.
Depression can be a disabling condition, and, like anxiety disorders, it may sometimes be linked to chronic stress. Individuals with a high level of work-related stress are more than twice as likely to experience a major depressive episode, compared with people who are under less stress. Evidence also suggests that certain people may be genetically susceptible to depression after they experience stressful life events.
Depression shares some of the symptoms of stress, including changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and concentration. Serious depression, however, is distinguished from stress by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in life, and, sometimes, thoughts of suicide. Acute depression is also accompanied by significant changes in the patient's functioning. The person may need professional therapy to determine whether depression is caused by stress, or if it is the primary problem.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to a very traumatic event, and it is typically classified as an anxiety disorder. The event that brings on PTSD is usually outside the norm of human experience, such as intense combat or sexual assault. The patient struggles to forget the traumatic event and frequently develops emotional numbness and event-related amnesia. Often, however, there is a mental flashback, and the patient re-experiences the painful circumstance in the form of dreams and disturbing thoughts and memories. These thoughts and dreams resemble or recall the trauma. Other symptoms may include a lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, hopelessness, irritability, mood swings, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, and an excessive startle-response to noise.
The Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist is a tool used to predict post-traumatic stress disorder. In studies, it was found to be a valid tool (though only women were participants in the valid studies).
While various interventions to treat or prevent PTSD have been tested, research has not shed much light on the best approach.
Review Date: 10/14/2010
Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.