Managing stress is difficult when you also have an anxiety disorder. Many people conflate anxiety with stress, but they’re not the same thing. In fact, they’re markedly different. Stress is something that we all go through and experience as human beings.
We have different life stressors such as academics, work, family issues, and relationship problems, but while stress or nervousness can come up at various points throughout a person’s life, anxiety disorders can make it difficult for a person to function. In this article, we’re going to talk about the differences between stress and anxiety.
Anxiety vs. Stress
On the surface, anxiety and stress may look similar, but it’s important to recognize the differences between the two since stress and anxiety do sometimes share overlapping symptoms.
With both anxiety and stress, you may experience trouble staying asleep or falling asleep. You might have trouble focusing, become withdrawn from your social life, or it might be hard for you to focus. It’s hard to be stressed out; however, these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have an anxiety disorder.
The key difference is that stress is a reaction to something happening in your life that’s transient or short-term. For example, you might be stressed out because of a test coming up, or you might be going through a life transition such as getting divorced. Stress is a temporary response, whereas anxiety disorders are ongoing conditions. Stress is not fun, and it can aggravate anxiety, but anxiety is a mental health condition or disorder that can cause significant, debilitating damage to a person’s life. It affects a person’s ability to function in work, school, social situations, and more.
Stress could be long-term, but typically, it’s transient and dependent on an identifiable, specific life issue.
The main difference between anxiety and stress is that stress is a short term problem, but anxiety is a long-term diagnosable condition.
Symptoms of Stress
Much like anxiety, stress can have physical symptoms attached to it. When someone says “I’m stressed out,” they’re probably feeling it in their body. You might be wondering: “what are the symptoms of stress?” and once again, they are overlapping with symptoms of anxiety.
Some symptoms of stress can include:
- Trouble staying or falling asleep
- Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- GI issues
- Feeling sweaty
- Back pain or cervical spine pain
- A marked loss of libido or sexual desire
When you’re experiencing a high level of stress in your life, you’ll likely find yourself experiencing one or more of these symptoms. It’s tough to figure out what to do when you’re stressed out, but there are some things that you can do to combat stress, such as relaxation techniques.
Dealing With Stress In Your Life
It’s crucial to learn how to manage stress because you’ll inevitably encounter stress in your life and if you know what to do when it happens, you’ll be able to cope with it much better. One thing that you can do is learn how to utilize breathing techniques.
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Deep Breathing is the best thing you can do when you’re experiencing either stress or anxiety. Your breath is something that you can control. You can inhale and count to 4, and then, exhale and count to 4. Focus on taking deep breaths slowly and consciously.
Music can be highly cathartic. You can lay down and listen to music, or you can get up and start dancing to music that gets your heart pumping. Sometimes when you’re stressed, you need to release that frustration or anger by rocking out to punk rock or whatever gets you going. Stress can make you feel like there’s a ton of adrenaline in your body that just has to be released.
Journaling is another way to let go of your stress. It’s great to write down how you feel; you might not even realize the extent of how you’re feeling until you do.
Another excellent tool, especially for anxiety disorders or long-term stress, is therapy. Talk to someone about your stress levels and get some insight as to how to manage stress. You don’t have to do this alone; you can access support through friends, family, and your therapist, who cares about you and is dedicated to helping you.
One of the most common anxiety disorders is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s characterized by excessive and persistent worrying about things occurring in your life that you may have control or limited control over. It’s an intense worry that seems disproportionate to the actual event; you may catastrophize or think the worst is going to happen.
Here are the specific symptoms of GAD:
- Difficulty controlling your persistent worrying
- Feeling exhausted
- Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
- Somatic symptoms such as body aches or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Feeling socially anxious or isolating from social situations
Anxiety disorders, such as GAD, are very prevalent. Here are some of the treatment options for anxiety:
Therapy and Medication
Therapy is an effective way to treat anxiety. One form of therapy that’s been revolutionary in treating anxiety is CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a form of treatment that focuses on changing maladaptive or negative thought patterns. It helps an individual recognize and change the thought patterns that aren’t serving them and to feel better as a result of doing so.
Medication can be a great supplement to working through your anxiety, whether you’re taking antidepressants which can alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety on a daily basis. Sometimes, benzodiazepines are prescribed for panic attacks. Beta blockers are also an option. It’s important to work with a psychiatrist that you feel comfortable with to find the right medication for you.
Anxiety and stress aren’t the same things, but if you’re experiencing either one, you’re not alone. Here are some statistics to show you just how common both of these things are.
Statistics Canada reports that 6.7 million or 23% of people ages 15 or older say that most of their days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful.
In 2017, Statistics Canada reported that 8.6% of Canadians have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
If you find that your stress is unmanageable, get help from a mental health professional such as a therapist or counsellor. You don’t have to figure this out alone, which is why therapy was previously mentioned. Whether you see someone online or in your local area, stress is something that you can cope with.
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