Stress vs anxiety: Symptoms and tips to cope – Insider

Stress and anxiety can cause many of the same symptoms, like an increased heart rate, muscle tension, and feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear. 
However, stress happens in response to external triggers, so when you address those causes, it often goes away. For example, if you’re worried about an upcoming test, meeting, or event, talking to a friend and getting some outside perspective can help you relax and prepare.
Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to involve ongoing worry and dread. It can show up without an obvious trigger, and it won’t always go away when you take steps to address the stressor. When you have your first child, for instance, you might do everything you can to prepare, but still feel nervous and afraid of doing something wrong. 
Despite these differences, anxiety and stress share enough similarities that it’s easy to mistake one for the other, or even use the two terms interchangeably. Below, we’ll unpack what separates stress from anxiety and offer some coping tips for each.
Pretty much everyone will experience stress at some point in life — it’s a natural response to the challenges and difficulties you face every day. 
Currently, the three most common stressors in the US are the inflation and escalation in prices, the frustration of empty shelves, and global uncertainty, says Dr. Alison Smith, co-founder and Chief Science Officer of wellness startup Roga.
Other common sources of stress include: 
Stress in itself isn’t a medical or mental health diagnosis — but it can contribute to both physical and mental health symptoms, including:
Stress triggers your body to release cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and adrenaline. Increased levels of these hormones can affect your immune, digestive, and reproductive systems.
Over time, unmanaged stress can have some pretty major health consequences, including:
You may not always find it easy — or possible — to completely remove stress from your life. 
Even so, coping strategies can help you navigate it more effectively. Consider adding these 10 tips to your stress management toolbox: 
1. Take breaks throughout the day to recharge your brain.
2. Do something you enjoy, like reading, for at least a few minutes every day to give your mind some time to cool down.
3. Try a new hobby — creative activities like painting or writing, in particular, can trigger the release of mood-boosting endorphins and help lower cortisol levels, to boot. 
4. Spend at least two hours a week outside in nature.
5. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. 
6. Try aerobic exercises, like swimming or cycling, to release endorphins and help you sleep better at night.
7. Confide in the people closest to you and ask for help if you need it.
8. Set yourself small, achievable goals, like taking a 15-minute walk every day at lunch if you don’t have a lot of time to exercise.
9. Focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to multitask.
10. Use relaxation techniques like guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation, along with wearables, to help you deal with the effects of stress, Smith says. 
Engaging with your community, cuddling with a pet, and generally working to simplify your life can also have benefits, says Caroline Buzanko, registered psychologist and clinical director of Koru Family Psychology.
Important: As you work to address those sources of stress, remember to show yourself kindness and self-compassion instead of criticizing yourself. It often takes time and patience to heal and recover from stress.
Sometimes, feelings of anxiety relate to an external factor, like a looming deadline or a text message from your partner that says, “We need to talk.” 
Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress.  It can actually help you, in times of danger or duress, because it heightens your senses and makes you more aware of your surroundings.
Common anxiety triggers include:
Both anxiety and stress have a lot to do with your fight or flight response — your body’s natural reaction to potential danger. It’s this automatic response that causes the physical and emotional symptoms you experience. 
But anxiety may linger long after the triggering event ends. And since it can happen without a specific cause, you may not know exactly what caused your feelings of unease, worry, and fear. 
Ongoing anxiety with no clear trigger could suggest an anxiety disorder. These conditions involve persistent nervousness and worry about everyday situations and events. In short, your mind perceives these circumstances as dangerous, even though they don’t pose any real threat.  
Anxiety can also happen in tandem with other mental health conditions including depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and substance use disorders
Specific symptoms of anxiety can vary, but you’ll most likely experience some of the following: 
Note: Anxiety often involves avoidance, so you may be more likely to try and avoid the source of your fear when dealing with an anxiety disorder — but avoiding triggers can eventually worsen your anxiety. Learning helpful coping mechanisms can offer more long-term benefits. 
Most strategies for coping with anxiety involve direct, purposeful actions, such as:
1. Physical activity, like taking a walk or doing some stretches, to release endorphins.
2. Breathing exercises, like belly breathing or 4-7-8 breathing, to help ground you in the present moment.
3. Journaling to help boost endorphins and lower cortisol levels.
4. Meditating daily to give you a sense of calm and help reduce chronic anxiety.
5. Aromatherapy, which can help calm your mind and make it easier to fall asleep at night.
6. Yoga, which can improve your quality of sleep and lower your stress levels.
7. Eating a balanced diet to increase your energy levels and improve your mood
8. Setting aside time to reflect on your day to help address and release your anxiety before bed.
9. Talking to someone you trust about your feelings.
10. Cutting back on caffeine to help lower your heart rate and sleep better at night.
11. Practicing mindfulness techniques, like grounding yourself in the present moment to ease anxiety-provoking thoughts. 
Quick tip: You can often ease anxious thoughts with the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method, which involves using your five senses to take stock of your surroundings. For example, count 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch or feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
It’s worth keeping in mind that stress and anxiety don’t always follow negative events. 
Plenty of happy moments and major life events  — such as marriage, a new baby, retirement, or moving to a new home — can also trigger them, Buzanko says.
But no matter the cause, stress and anxiety can get worse without effective coping techniques. They can also contribute to mental or physical health concerns such as depression, digestive concerns, high blood pressure, or sleep issues. 
If stress or anxiety affect your daily life and cause problems at work, school, or in your relationships, a therapist can offer support by:
If you’re looking to work through stress or anxiety with a mental health professional, check out our guides to the best online therapy providers and free online therapy resources.

Stress and anxiety have a lot in common, but they aren’t the same. Stress refers to your mental and physical reaction to external triggers, while anxiety generally describes ongoing feelings of nervousness and worry that may not have a recognizable cause.
Learning how to recognize specific sources of stress in your life can go a long way toward helping you minimize those triggers, which may ease anxiety, in turn. Just remember,  anxiety that doesn’t improve may require support from a professional.   
A therapist can offer more personalized guidance with navigating anxiety or stress — and it’s never too late to seek professional help for any lingering or worsening symptoms. 
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