When you think of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety they seem to have a lot in common. True enough, they have many similarities in terms of how they affect an individual, but stress and anxiety are still two different conditions that need to be differentiated.
Stress is a feeling of emotional and physical tension, triggered by an event or circumstance that your brain anticipates will require a physical, possibly explosive response. It is a preparation state, attained rapidly, putting the body in a state of readiness for a direct response to a perceived external threat.
However, stress is not always a bad experience! There are times when it is classed as ‘good stress.’ This type of stress is known as eustress. Distress is the bad type, which is easy to remember.
Generally acute stress, which usually comes occassionally, allows us to solve problems, meet deadlines, and avoid danger, is a stress that can be very helpful.
Realistically, this is even necessary to life because without it, how are we ever going to learn new things and know how to handle challenging situations? Stress allows us to grow and evolve.
Chronic or sustained stress is very damaging to a person’s health. It usually results from emotionally-induced triggers rather than physical threats. However, our reactive, protective brain cannot differentiate and reacts by flooding the body with stress hormones.
These accumulate as there is usually no physical release to resolve the hormone release. Persistently elevated levels of stress hormones are the cause of chronic stress.
Here are the common symptoms of chronic stress:
- Back pain
- Inability to sleep, or disrupted sleep
- Sweaty palms or feet
- Feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Feeling unwell regularly
- Excessive worry
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Rapid heart rate
- Poor memory and concentration.
Anxiety is more than just a short-term feeling of discomfort. It can be triggered in response to stressful situations, but it also exists in their absence. It is characterized by a persistent feeling of fear or worry, frequently towards situations that are seemingly normal to most people, or situations that are not even threatening.
Anxiety is highlighted by feelings of dread and worry occurring for a time that is inconsistent with current events. The person’s identified feelings of anxiety aren’t always easy to understand, but the intensity is out of proportion to the circumstance. It can blow up to become a mental anxiety disorder which comes in various classifications.
Unlike stress, anxiety can linger and remain long after a concern or issue has passed. While it may be in part caused by stress, its continuation is not necessarily in direct response to stress hormones. When an anxiety disorder exists, episodes of anxiety can trigger stress responses in the body.
Those living with anxiety can benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who can guide them through their bouts of anxiety, helping them prevent their anxiety from developing even further.
Anxiety disorders can be classified as:
- Phobias – these are fears of a specific situation, such as a fear of flying, or objects such as spiders.
- Panic disorder
- GAD – Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder – or social phobia
- PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder
- OCD – Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Here are the common signs of anxiety:
- Inability to control feelings of worry
- Sleep disturbance
- Feelings of restlessness and fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle tension
- Psychosomatic symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and feelings of dizziness
- Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat
- Significant impairment of the social areas or aspects of functioning.
Ways to Deal with Stress and Anxiety
Even though stress and anxiety appear to have common outward effects on a person, the ability to distinguish one from the other is key to managing both.
Stress is not always alarming, in fact, it’s necessary on some occasions, but it’s important to identify and manage stress as it occurs to prevent it from becoming chronic stress. Stress reduction techniques vary from one person to another.
Effective ways to deal with stress include:
- Relaxation breathing
- A good way to deal with stress at the onset is by practicing deep breathing exercises. This can effectively relieve or reduce stress instantly for most people.
- Exercise or physical activity
- Exercise facilitates the release of endorphins, the happiness-activating chemicals in the brain, and is effective in managing stress.
o Exercise helps complete the acute stress cycle, using up the released stress hormones and resolving the body to homeostasis.
” Keeping a journal
o Writing in a journal of stressful events and people, and your responses to them has proven to be an effective method of handling stress and making sense of your feelings on paper. You gain clarity, focus, and the ability to put things in perspective.
Anxiety disorder requires more external support than stress techniques. The two main treatments for anxiety are medication and psychotherapy.
More importantly, once either or both techniques are applied to relieve anxiety, lifestyle changes are required in order to prevent further anxiety attacks from occurring.
Effective treatments of Anxiety Disorder:
” Psychotherapy or Talk Therapy
o Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very effective short-term treatment for people suffering from anxiety. It allows them to learn new skills of coping and identifying possible triggers that would enable them to potentially overcome the disorder.
o In some cases, antidepressants are prescribed to people with anxiety, but should be taken only with supervision from a medical professional.
” Changes in Lifestyle
o Before resorting to medications, anxiety can sometimes be effectively addressed through lifestyle changes that include basic health practices such as getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating mindfully.
Anxiety can be a result of a person’s reaction to prolonged periods of unmanaged stress. When this occurs, it would be wise to seek the help and evaluation of a mental health care professional to help the person cope effectively and safely.