The weight of the world is on your shoulders. But what exactly is causing this feeling? When it comes to stress vs anxiety, it’s hard to determine if they’re the same thing. Is there a difference between stress and anxiety?
And how much does the difference matter when all you need is to feel “normal” again? Today in the rain, we’ll explore definitions and better yet, solutions to the age-old stress vs anxiety question.
Are Anxiety and Stress the Same Thing?
Anxiety vs stress…short answer? No, they’re not the same thing! While stress will often appear at some point in everyone’s lives, anxiety is often associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and fewer trigger points. Let’s look at some medical definitions.
What is Stress?
Experiencing stress, defined as “mental tension” that exists because of factors that alter an existing equilibrium, is extremely common. While stress plays a different role in each individual’s life, it’s hard to argue with the National Institute of Mental Health when they claim that stress affects everyone.
Common causes of stress include:
- Routine stress caused by daily or regular activities and engagements, such as school, work, family and/or other responsibilities
- Negative or traumatic changes can create stress, ranging from the loss of a loved one or job to traumatic experiences such as accidents or assault
It’s important to note that while stress usually carried a negative connotation, not all stress is bad. Stress can make you more alert and able to act on your feet, potentially saving you from a dangerous situation. Alternatively, it may be that last driving force that makes you finish your homework or assignment on time.
Watching your stress level
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should rely on stress to get things done. Additionally, long-term stress can be very harmful. This can occur if you continue experiencing the same source of stress regularly. It’s important to take time to reflect on your happiness and feelings, both physical and emotional. This can help you identify potentially toxic habits or areas of your life and jumpstart a plan to a healthier lifestyle.
Interestingly, levels of stress can continue even after the original stress instigator passes. This is known as chronic stress, which can lead to adverse health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
That’s right-some forms of anxiety originate from continued levels of stress! Thankfully, that means a lot of activities made to reduce stress are similar to and can work to combat anxiety as well. We’ll get to that soon-for now, let’s see what sets the two apart.
Symptoms of Anxiety
So what is anxiety, and how is it any different from how I feel before an exam or interview? Often, anxious and stressful feelings stemming from specific situations are useful and common. When these anxious feelings do not fade over time, or are extremely strong even in low-stake situations, to the extreme over low-stakes situations, this may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety symptoms can include:
- Constant worry
- Poor concentration (except for current worry)
- Poor memory
- Racing thoughts
- An extreme urge to avoid triggering areas/situations
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pressure/tightening
- Inability to relax
- Physical weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Upset stomach
Similar to symptoms of stress, symptoms of anxiety are often triggered by perceivably dangerous situations. However, it is more common for anxious individuals to react badly to low-risk situations.
Now-having an anxiety disorder doesn’t make you weird or “not normal.” You’re just as human and worthy as everyone else! In fact, treatments for stress and anxiety can often overlap. You should always strive for specialized care if self-treatments or methods don’t help, but remember that your health can remain only your business if you want it to.
Judgemental “friend” worsening your anxiety by asking about it? Make up an excuse. You should never have to feel ashamed of your challenges, or pressured to share more than you’re willing. And hey-we’ll look at this in a second, but remember that anxiety disorders are not uncommon in the slightest.
Addressing Stress vs Anxiety
There are many activities and ways to address both stress vs anxiety. Here are some easy ways to handle the beasts themselves.
How to Deal with Stress
Any type of relaxation is good for a stressed soul. I find the following recommendations most helpful to me in stressful situations! Feel free to mix and match these with recommendations against anxiety symptoms in the next section.
- Getting enough sleep: not getting enough sleep is a sure-fire way to ruin productivity and mood. Take a quick nap and be sure to get enough sleep to reduce stress levels.
- Taking a break: certain situation freaking you out? Take a time-out! Removing yourself from a stressful situation, even for a few short minutes, can greatly alter your mindset. It can even help you better tackle the same challenge later.
If stress is intensely interfering with your life, it might be time to see a professional. That’s right-even something that seems as simple as stress might require external help, and there’s no shame in getting it! We’ll go more into seeking help at the end of this post, don’t worry.
Coping with Anxiety
Coping with anxiety and symptoms of anxiety isn’t easy! While we all wish there was an instant solution, a cure for anxiety is not so simple. Thankfully, there are many ways to address Generalized Anxiety Disorder and bring more calm into your life. Here are few suggestions to start you off.
- Exercise: anti-anxiety effects can kick in after only five minutes of of aerobic exercise.
- Meditate: meditation can lower your heart AND blood rate. This is another relaxation method that directly countering common symptoms of anxiety.
- Regular, healthy diet: While eating healthy is a common goal, eating at all can become a struggle for those with intense anxiety symptoms. Skipping meals can lower your blood sugar, worsening symptoms. Make sure to eat as healthy as possible, and always eat!
Looking for advice on a more dire need? Having an anxiety attack? We’ve already explored some ways to stop an anxiety attack on Renting the Rain!
How Common is Anxiety?
You’ve got some tactics for coping with and lessening anxiety. Now how do you know if what you’re feeling is actually anxiety?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are also the most common mental illness in the country. That makes up 18.1 percent of the population, and includes a variety of disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and more.
In other words, anxiety disorders are extremely common. Even if you aren’t diagnosed, anti-anxiety tactics can always bring more calm into your life. Want to get officially diagnosed by a medical professional? This can open up further treatment options and even result in accommodations professionally or at school.
However, for some, getting diagnosed is scary or impossible! Remember that a lack of diagnosis should never invalidate your experience or troubles. So don’t let anyone tell you that, okay? 😉
Sometimes, we all just need a little outside help. Cognitive therapy can help those suffering from stress vs anxiety-related symptoms. Many different events can make you stressed or anxious. But the way we deal with and think about these events also largely affects our health.
If stress or anxiety symptoms are still largely affecting your life, medication is available. In conjunction with your therapist, psychologist or other doctor, a wide variety of medications in varying dosages are available to help YOU get back on track.
Remember, there’s no shame in needing help in your stress vs anxiety journey. There’s especially no shame in reaching out for it! Gifting yourself patience to get better and surrounding yourself with friends, loved ones, and professionals you can trust is key to lessening negative stress and symptoms in your life.
Ready to start your stress and anxiety-free journey with some self-changes? Check out our article on Your Top 5 Worst Anxiety Habits for more ideas on where to start.