ZENSTUDIES : Making a healthy transition to higher education
Mental health in college-level education: providing teachers and mental health care professionals with tools to reduce dropout rates following the transition to college
2.2 Information - Mental Health
Here are some definitions to help you distinguish between stress, anxiety and depression. Charts outlining the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety will help you determine where you stand in relation to your mental health. You can also evaluate yourself using the tests or questionnaires that are available for you.
Stress and anxiety are similar but anxiety refers to the tendency to worry, to anticipate difficulties and sometimes to perceive difficulties when there are none.
i. Stress: According to Lazarus and Folkman (1984), stress is a transaction between a person and their environment. A situation is stressful when a person feels like they are in danger or don't have the resources to deal with a threat. Stress is the body's physiological response when facing an actual or perceived physical or psychological threat (Selye, 1936 in Lupien et al., 2007). It's a normal response to a need for adaptation (e.g., "I'm stressed because it's the exam period"). There are two kinds of stress: good stress and bad stress. Good stress allows us to adapt to various situations: it pushes us to plan, organize, study, etc. In contrast, bad stress is problematic, causing us to avoid an obligation, put off studying or freak out.
i. Anxiety: Beck (2005) defines anxiety as an emotional state characterized by associated physical symptoms. It's the normal response of the body and mind to a need for adaptation. While stress are intellectual appraisals to a real threatening stimulus, anxiety is unique in that it also involves an emotional response. Anxiety also refers to the anticipation of a future or unknown threat (APA, 2013). It's the belief that a threatening event could happen as well as the anticipation of its occurrence (Zacchia, for definitions: http://www.phobies-zero.qc.ca/comprendre/camillo-zacchia/). There are different levels of anxiety. Normal anxiety protects us from danger: it prevents us from handling knives carelessly and getting too close to the edge of the subway platform for fear of falling. Those are normal reactions. However, pathological anxiety affects our ability to function normally and is associated with a constant preoccupation with objects and situations that cause anxiety. For example, someone may be suffering from pathological anxiety if they don't show up for their oral presentation because they are afraid of making a mistake in front of the class.
i.Depression: Everyone feels sad or depressed sometimes. It's normal for some situations (e.g., a break-up, a bad grade on a test you put a lot of effort into) to generate such feelings. Usually, these feelings are temporary and only last a few days. However, it's more akin to depression if they persist for several weeks. Unlike the occasional blues, depression deeply affects social and academic functioning. For example, a person may have trouble concentrating, become isolated from their loved ones, sleep more or less than usual or lose interest in previously enjoyed activities (BeyondBlue, 2014).