Stress vs Anxiety

As I prepared for my trip down to Florida from Arizona, my stress and anxiety levels naturally went up. Trying to get a multiple dog household across the country in one piece wasn’t going to be easy or cheap. As I spoke to a friend about it and what I was doing for self-care and how hard it was, to keep my stress level manageable so my anxiety didn’t go up, she looked at me and asked “What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? I thought they were the same.” I wondered how many other people think that stress and anxiety are the same thing. They are similar, in fact many of the symptoms can be interchangeable, and it is helpful to be aware of those differences.

Stress is our body’s natural response to changes in our lives, those changes can be positive, such as a move to a new state, or they can be negative such as the loss of a job. The changes can be things we purposely have sought out or they can be changes beyond our control. We tend to have a stronger reaction to stress when we don’t have control over the change.

Our bodies are designed to handle stress, through our flight, fight or freeze responses. This response occurs physiologically to help our bodies respond in the appropriate manner. For example, have you ever almost been in a car accident and you had to make a quick response? You might not remember every detail of the situation. Your body may have responded without you even thinking about it, and then you started to shake afterward? That is your body’s flight, fight or freeze response, your body has flooded your limbs with adrenaline, to help you have better reflexes, the shaking afterward is your body coming back down to normal levels.

If you cannot manage your stress your body will constantly be in a state of flight, fight or freeze, this can lead to major health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, depression, and digestive issues just to name a few. Stress can also create certain symptoms and illnesses such as heart disease, suicide, depression and cancer. We can keep our bodies in a negative state of stress when we use to much tobacco, drink too much caffeine, use drugs or alcohol, compulsive shopping, or gambling are just a few things people do to keep their bodies in a negative state of stress.

Some potential symptoms of stress to be aware of are: lack of sleep, lack of concentration, headaches, dizziness, change in weight (increase or decrease), racing heart, gastrointestinal issues.

So, what can you do to manage your stress better? Maintain a positive attitude (this does not mean that some emotions are going to go away, what it means is that it will help you manage your stress levels more appropriately and see things in a different light), exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, learn meditation techniques, listen to music, do something for yourself, create healthy boundaries, healthy sleeping patterns, do things that you enjoy doing, and not what you have to do.

Anxiety is uneasiness, nervousness, anticipation or fear of an impending event. As with stress, some anxiety can be beneficial. Such as being nervous before a big exam, or getting ready to play in the championship game. Studies have shown that anxiety in those moments is actually helpful to us in helping us focus on things and concentrate better. It’s when our bodies are in a constant state of anxiety that it can be harmful to us emotionally and physically.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety are: increased heart rate, tremors, avoidance, sleep problems, rapid breathing, panic, pit in the stomach and feeling as if your skin is crawling.

We all experience different forms of anxiety, worrying about how we are going to pay a bill, disappointing others, getting a promotion are all examples of normal anxiety. It’s when our anxiety starts to interfere with our daily functioning that it becomes a problem. Things such as avoiding going out in public, calling in sick to work, isolating from friends and family, are all examples of when our anxiety interferes with our daily living.

Some people who have anxiety may need medication in order to give their bodies a chance to relax and react appropriately. Cognitive behavior therapy can help those who struggle with anxiety to learn how to manage their anxiety in a more appropriate manner. Some of the skills we teach through CBT are learning how an incident activates an automatic thought, and depending on if that thought is negative or positive it will then activate an emotion and that leads to a specific behavior.  Learning deep breathing techniques, using ice, essential oils or other CBT skills can help people manage their anxiety symptoms.

Dialectical behavior therapy skills work with people to learn about mindfulness and how to manage those strong emotions such as anger, frustration, irritability that come from too much stress and anxiety. DBT starts with mindfulness which is learning how to ground yourself and be in the present without judging ourselves too harshly. There are different skills to use with mindfulness, using the five senses, counting backwards while taking deep breaths, orientating to a room, mindfulness walk is just a few of the different mindfulness techniques that people use. DBT will teach people how to manage their emotions through different techniques. Distress tolerance will teach people how get through a distress emotional response without making those emotions stronger. DBT is a skillset that you should learn with a professional to help guide you.

If we have chronic stress this can also lead to developing generalized anxiety disorder, our bodies and minds need rest in order to function properly. You are not going to get through life without experiencing stress or anxiety. They are our bodies natural responses to the world around us. Learning how to take care of our emotional and physical health is important to being able to navigate the daily stresses we all experience in life. This is why it is very important to carve out time in our schedules for self-care.

Make sure that you are carving out some time every day to take five minutes and observe yourself and your surroundings. At least once a week you need to do something just for you, whether it’s taking a bath, going golfing, taking a long walk, playing with your kids, enjoying a movie with friends or loved ones, sitting in your backyard with a cup of coffee. Keeping our emotional health is as important as our physical health, taking time for ourselves can have a lasting positive impact on our health and give us the ability to manage our stress and anxiety in healthier ways.

If you are looking for help with managing whatever emotions have been coming up for you, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


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