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'Stressing Out' on Words to the Wise

Sometimes talk therapy can help people deal with stress as well as more serious mood disorders.
Sometimes talk therapy can help people deal with stress as well as more serious mood disorders.
'Stressing Out' on Words to the Wise
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Welcome back to Words to the Wise. I'm Caty Weaver. Bryan Lynn is in the studio with me. Hi Bryan!

Hi Caty!

Last month, Zerrouq from Morocco sent us a suggestion for a topic. He said he would like to learn terms connected to emotional and mental health.

So today, we will explore the vocabulary of the human psyche.

But before that, we had another question from website visitor Kufre Etuk. Kufre wants to know the difference between toward and towards.

Easy answer --- nothing! The words are interchangeable and an issue of personal choice. I always use toward, and that is the more common usage, I think, among US and Canadian speakers of English. Towards is heard more in countries that speak British English.

That's a good question, Kufre. Now you do not have to feel any stress about which word to use.


I see you used the word stress there, Bryan! That is one of the terms Zerrouq asked us about. Stress is a state of mental tension. It is the opposite of calm or peaceful.

Mental stress might happen when a person is being judged or measured – like with school or work.

Or if you're on trial! Talk about being judged!

Yes, if you have to go to court you would probably be stressed about it.

Sometimes people use the phrase “stressed out.” That means they feel more stress than they can deal with. They are overstressed.

If you are a parent of a teenager you might hear this expression pretty often: “Mom, you’re stressing me out.” That is especially common after you tell the teen to clean her room…or study for his test…or just get out of bed!

But stress can lead to -- or be a sign of -- more serious mental disorders, like depression.

Depression: a mood disorder

Yes, that is true. Merriam Webster defines depression as “low in spirits.” Other dictionaries describe it as a feeling of sadness.

Depression can be a short-term reaction to something bad that happens. But it can also be long term condition.

U.S. mental health officials define it as “a serious mood disorder that affects how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, like sleeping, eating, or working.”

Mood. That is a good word for us to talk about. Your mood is an emotional state. If you are enjoying a walk in a pretty park on a warm, sunny day, you are probably in a good mood.

If you are watching a sad movie, it might bring your mood down. If you are stuck in traffic, you might get in a really bad mood.

Anxiety and phobias

Yes, bad traffic can cause anxiety, especially if you are trying to get somewhere at a certain time. Anxiety is a state of worry and unease. The adjectival form is anxious. For example, "I am anxious I will be late for the wedding."

Do you get anxious when you are flying on a plane?

Oh yes, flying can cause stress for a lot of people, including me. Some suffer from a fear of flying. The medical term for that is aviophobia.

A phobia is an extreme or unreasonable fear or dislike of something. A couple common conditions are acrophobia, which is a fear of heights; and claustrophobia, a fear of small spaces.

And a few years back there was a horror movie called Arachnophobia.

That was about an invasion of deadly spiders. That is my phobia! I am terrified of spiders! I actually had a panic attack watching that movie.

I’ve never had one before. What is it like? What does it mean?

Panic attack

Well, panic is sudden, uncontrollable fear or anxiety. It can cause wild, sort of, unthinking behavior. A panic attack is a period of extreme anxiety. It might even become hard for a person to breathe. Which is what happened when I watched Arachnophobia.

People who have phobias or other disorders often seek mental health therapy. Therapy is a term that can be used for any kind of continuous medical treatment. People might go to physical therapy after a knee operation, for example.

But when people just say therapy alone, they often mean mental health or psychotherapy. Another word for such therapy is counseling.

Counseling or therapy can come in all kinds of settings. You can meet with a group of people that share a common problem, or you can have private visits with a doctor called a psychiatrist. You might also have a longer-term stay at a medical center.


Yeah, like when movie stars check themselves into rehab. Rehab stands for rehabilitation. To rehabilitate means to restore to a healthy condition. There are many rehab centers in the U.S. that treat drug addiction, for example.

That's another term worth explaining, Bryan, drug addiction. This means a dangerous, unhealthy dependence on a drug or drugs. This can include alcohol. Although, a dependence on alcohol is often called alcoholism.

I think I might be addicted to caffeine. I cannot do much of anything before I have my morning coffee. This addiction does not seem to cause me real problems, though. But, I do get a bad mood if I don’t have coffee!

Yes, Caty, I definitely do not want to work with you on a day you missed your morning coffee.

OK...very funny. Please comment on our webpage and let us know what you thought of this show. And, tell us what you’d like us to talk about in a future Words to the Wise.

I’m Caty Weaver

And I’m Bryan Lynn.

Caty Weaver wrote this story. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

What puts you in a good mood? Do you have any phobias? Tell us in the comment section. And let us know where you are from!


Words in This Story

psyche - n. the soul, mind, or personality of a person or group​

stress - n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.​

depression - n. a state of feeling sad​; also a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way​

mood - ​n. the way someone feels : a person's emotional state​

anxiety -​ n. fear or nervousness about what might happen​

phobia - n. an extremely strong dislike or fear of someone or something​

panic attack - n. a sudden state or feeling of extreme fear that makes someone unable to act or think normally​

therapy - n. the treatment of physical or mental illnesses​

counseling - n. advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems, make important decisions, etc.​

rehab - n. a program for helping people who have problems with drugs, alcohol, etc. — often used after in or into

addiction - n. a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)​

caffeine - n. a substance that is found especially in coffee and tea and that makes you feel more awake​