A little stress and anxiety are normal for most people. You can feel a bit anxious during a job interview, on a date, during a test or exam, or if you’re tackling something for the first time. Stress can arise in the mundane moments of life such as when you’re looking over your finances, when you have a huge workload or a deadline on the horizon, during a conflict in a relationship, or even when you’re dealing with your kids.
Both stress and anxiety are ways for our bodies to deal with various stimuli in our environment. In small doses, they are vital ways for our bodies to protect themselves as we deal with difficult situations, but in excess, they can be detrimental to our health. It’s important to keep an eye on your anxiety and stress levels because they can have far-reaching consequences on one’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
Are Stress And Anxiety The Same Thing?
Often, anxiety can be one of the signs that you’re stressed. Both anxiety and stress will affect you mentally, physically, and emotionally, and they are how our bodies react to situations where we are threatened, whether the threat is real or perceived. For both anxiety and stress, one of the key variables is the person concerned.
What causes stress to one person may not feel stressful to another, just as what induces anxiety in one person doesn’t bother someone else in the least. Some people are more adept at handling stress and anxiety than others, and another similarity between stress and anxiety is that it’s not bad in small doses and can even be helpful to deal with short-term triggers such as deadlines.
Mild stress and mild anxiety can both be addressed by the same interventions such as physical activity, a nutritious and varied diet, and good sleep hygiene for a start, but they aren’t the same thing.
Anxiety and stress will often lead to symptoms that are similar to those of stress such as having difficulty concentrating, struggling to fall asleep, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. However, there’s a fine line that distinguishes stress and anxiety.
Anxiety can be triggered by the presence of a stressor, but it differs from stress because the worry one experiences may not always go away even when the trigger is absent. Anxiety can also be rooted in an underlying physical health issue.
On the other hand, stress is typically caused by an external trigger, and these can be both short- and long-term. Long-term triggers can include dealing with chronic illness, financial hardships, relational conflict, or joblessness. Short-term triggers of stress include having a deadline at work or having a disagreement with a loved one.
In the long term, both stress and anxiety have many negative health outcomes. Some of the long-term consequences of stress include mental health issues such as depression and anxiety; obesity and eating disorders; cardiovascular disease; gastrointestinal problems; disruption of the menstrual cycle; sexual dysfunction; and skin and hair problems such as permanent hair loss, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
The long-term effects of anxiety include an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease; digestive issues such as loss of appetite, stomachaches, nausea, and diarrhea; a weakened immune system which leaves you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses; worsening of asthma symptoms; and an increase in the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and depression.
The Signs Of Anxiety
The causes of anxiety and anxiety disorders aren’t yet fully understood, though certain traumatic experiences and one’s genetics can trigger anxiety in people that are prone to it. Just as what triggers anxiety will differ from person to person, anxiety symptoms will vary from person to person. Generally, anxiety will make your body go on high alert, activating your ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Some of the common signs of anxiety will include:
- feeling nervous, restless, or tense, and having feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- rapid heart rate
- rapid and shallow breathing, or hyperventilating
- increased sweating
- feeling ‘hollow’ or having butterflies in your stomach
- feeling weak and lethargic
- difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
- difficulty sleeping
- digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation or diarrhea
Symptoms of Stress
People that are under stress will experience a range of cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive problems, and difficulty sleeping. The physical symptoms of stress include feeling fatigued; gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and nausea; tense muscles and chest pain; insomnia; loss of sexual desire and/or ability; and frequent infections and colds due to a weakened immune system.
Some of the emotional symptoms of stress include:
- irritability and anger
- being easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
- feeling as though things are out of control
- struggling to relax and quiet your mind
- low self-esteem, coupled with feeling lonely, or worthless
In terms of how stress can affect one’s behavior, it can lead to avoiding others such as loved ones; changes in appetite; increased use of drugs or alcohol; increased procrastination; and nervous behaviors such as fidgeting and nail-biting.
The cognitive symptoms of stress include struggling to focus; constantly worrying; becoming more forgetful; having poor judgment and being more disorganized, as becoming more pessimistic and cynical.
How to Address Anxiety and Stress
Stress and anxiety are a part of life that we simply can’t avoid. The more interesting question and what matters most is how you’re going to handle it when they come your way. To deal with both stress and anxiety, it’s helpful to know what triggers them in your life and to deal with them sooner than later.
Sometimes, stress or anxiety is the result of other health conditions, so it is important to see a doctor so that other underlying health conditions are eliminated as potential causes. Because mild stress and anxiety are similar in many ways, the way to address them also looks the same, and broad it is a combination of routines and activities that will promote good physical and mental health.
Get exercise and eat healthy. A regular exercise routine can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Exercise can help to deal with the cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline that your body produces when you’re under stress and feeling anxious.
Exercise also helps by elevating your mood through the release of neurochemicals such as endorphins. A healthy diet with whole grains, plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein such as chicken and fish will help you to feel good and have the energy to tackle your tasks well.
Other ways to stay or get healthy include making sure you avoid certain foods or behaviors that can only worsen your stress and anxiety. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, as these can cause or increase your anxiety, and they are not effective long-term solutions to alleviating stress.
Smoking and consuming caffeine (in beverages such as tea, coffee, or energy drinks) typically only make anxiety worse, don’t help to alleviate stress long-term, and can affect good sleep.
Try relaxation and stress management techniques. Meditation, practicing visualization techniques, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and activities such as yoga can promote relaxation and reduce your levels of anxiety.
Spiritual practices such as going for a solitude retreat can help you decompress and create the capacity to deal with stress and anxiety. Often, we need reminders that God is in control for us to relinquish the illusion that by worrying we can add a single hour to our lives (Matthew 6:25-34).
Get enough quality sleep. When you aren’t getting good sleep, that can increase your feelings of restlessness and anxiety. Getting enough sleep every night can alleviate stress significantly. Proper sleep hygiene can improve the quality and duration of your sleep, which leaves you feeling more refreshed in the morning and better prepared to manage stress and anxiety.
Good sleep hygiene guidelines include maintaining a strict sleep schedule; making sure your room is relaxing and dim enough for sleep; reducing your intake of stimulants before bed and keeping electronic devices out of the room.
Getting Help to Address Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress can affect anyone. Because of the fast-paced and high-pressure lives that many people lead, it’s increasingly likely that they are experiencing stress and anxiety.
If you’re finding yourself under pressure, whether in your personal life, at work, or because of your finances or other struggles, don’t wait to deal with the resultant stress or anxiety. When stress or anxiety aren’t nipped in the bud, they can lead to devastating long-term consequences to your mental, physical, and emotional health.
One helpful way to deal with stress and anxiety is to understand them – how they affect you, and why you deal with them as you do. Sometimes, you may need help beyond the at-home remedies outlined above to deal with anxiety or stress.
If they are affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, consider speaking with a mental health professional who can help you understand what you are going through and provide you with the tools you need to cope. If they make everyday tasks difficult, you may have a chronic disorder. You can talk with a counselor or another mental health professional today to get help unpacking your problems, and to begin reclaiming your joy.
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