What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Symptoms of stress, physical symptoms of stress, chronic stress symptoms, symptoms of stress and anxiety, physical signs of stress, emotional stress symptoms, skin conditions caused by stress and anxiety, behavioural symptoms of stress, managing stress and anxiety

It’s normal – especially given the situation many of us find ourselves living in at the moment – to find yourself experiencing feelings of anxiety and stress. In fact, it would be nothing short of remarkable if you haven’t experienced some kind of stress in the last 12-18 months, regardless of where you live in the world.

The thing to remember is that it’s critical to keep an eye on how long these feelings last and whether or not they respond to some simple management techniques.

Because feeling stressed or a bit anxious from time to time is perfectly normal, but there’s a huge difference between that and experiencing chronic stress symptoms, or what’s known as ‘pathological anxiety’ or ‘generalized anxiety disorder, which severely impacts your ability to live your day-to-day life.

*This article does not purport nor intend to be medical advice and is not intended to replace personalized medical advice or treatment.*

Do I have anxiety or am I just stressed?

While this article isn’t intended to replace personalized medical advice, there are a couple of signs that your feelings might be anxiety rather than stress.

Stress tends to go away once the situation that’s causing you to be stressed is over: for example, job interviews, exams, performance reviews, potential medical issues, etc.

Stress can be either positive or negative:

Eustress – is positive stress, related to things such as getting a job, staying alert to avoid danger (think fight or flight).

Distress – is negative stress, which occurs when a person has no downtime from the stressors.

Pathological anxiety (or generalized anxiety disorder) tends to hang around, even when there doesn’t seem to be any external cause for you to be feeling that way. If left untreated, pathological anxiety can lead to clinical depression as well.

Please note this: having anxiety and/or depression does NOT mean you’re weak and you’re not alone. If you feel like your stress or anxiety is having a deeper impact on your life than you feel comfortable with, PLEASE speak to a medical professional. There’s a lot of assistance available and people who want to help.

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Symptoms of stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can present a number of symptoms, including physical, emotional, and social indications and somewhere between 75-90% of all doctor appointments relate to emotional or physical signs of stress in some way. 

Physical symptoms of stress and anxiety can include:

  • hot and cold flushes
  • increased heat rate
  • difficulty breathing
  • change in appetite
  • adrenal fatigue
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal and digestive issues
  • insomnia
  • chest pain
  • increased resting pulse rate
  • skin conditions caused by stress can include eczema and psoriasis
  • asthma

Emotional stress symptoms can include:

  • excessive worry
  • unreasonable fear
  • obsessive overthinking
  • restlessness or listlessness
  • lack of motivation
  • inability to focus
  • anger
  • sadness

Behavioral symptoms of stress and anxiety can include:

  • avoiding situations because they seem overwhelming
  • lack of interest in normal activities
  • change in interactions in relationships
  • feeling like you can’t cope
  • change of exercise habits
  • increase in substance use: smoking, alcohol, drugs

Managing stress and anxiety

While there are medications that can be used to fight symptoms of stress and anxiety in a lot of cases the reality is that there are a lot of things that can be done naturally to help increase your wellbeing and help with managing stress and anxiety in your life.

Great stressbusters

Exercise: you might not feel up to your usual exercise routine, but any kind of physical activity will help to get your blood moving, encourage you to take deep breaths, and will release those awesome feel-good polypeptides: endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that your pituitary gland releases to help deal with pain or stress and they are amazing!

Laughing: laughter really can be the best medicine sometimes and when dealing with stress and anxiety, laughing will definitely help to increase your feelings of wellbeing. Even a hearty smile will help – so find all those hilarious cat videos, watch your favorite comedian or a funny movie, or get together with someone who always makes you laugh.

Hobbies: hobbies can be incredibly relaxing. Craft activities, like crochet and knitting, can help us to achieve a state of mindfulness (similar to meditation) through engaging in a repetitive activity plus you get the satisfaction of making something amazing as well. But anything that you enjoy and relaxes you is perfect for helping to ease any feelings of stress and anxiety.

Meditation: there are so many apps and services that can help with meditation these days, the hardest part will be finding the one you like the best. Meditation doesn’t need to be sitting on the floor cross-legged if that doesn’t work for you. It’s all about achieving a state of mindfulness, which basically means being able to clear your mind. If you’re just getting into meditation, there are some great guided meditations that can help you to get started.

Yoga: as well as being great exercise, yoga is also about achieving that state of mindfulness and it doesn’t need to be hard or painful and you don’t need to be super flexible to benefit from it. As with everything, getting started is the main thing, so have a look online to see what yoga options are available to you.

Unplug from situations that cause stress: if you know that the news causes you undue amounts of stress, stop watching it and just arrange to have someone tell you anything that you might actually need to know. Getting off social media can be a great stress buster for some people – constantly watching the showreel of other people’s lives can lead to feelings of anxiety and failure and really isn’t healthy.

Talk it out: have a mood buddy you can talk to, or get more serious professional help if you feel you need it. Bottling things up will only make you feel worse, but getting them out of your system can help you to put things in perspective and come up with solutions that you might not otherwise have thought of.

Obviously, these are just some ideas for how to deal with feelings of stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling any physical symptoms, please consult your GP, and naturally, if your medical professional recommends that you use medication, you need to follow their advice. They know your personal circumstances and will be able to tailor a treatment plan for you that’s going to be most effective.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

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