Stress or Anxiety — Which one is it? What should I do about it?

“My anxiety is through the roof” 

“I am so stressed I feel like I am going to have a panic attack”

These are common phrases we use when we’re stressed, and often the terms stress and anxiety are used interchangeably. While the two are related and may look very similar, they are actually quite different. It’s important to know the difference so that you can identify and address them properly.

Similarities Between Stress and Anxiety

One of the reasons stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably is that they share many of the same symptoms:

  • Heightened heart rate, 
  • Rapid breathing, 
  • Muscle tension, 
  • Difficulty sleeping, 
  • Lack of focus, 
  • Irritability, excessive worry 
  • Headaches 

There are important differences between stress and anxiety; however, let’s take a look at each one.

What is Stress?

Stress is your body’s reaction to an external trigger or event, and it is generally short-lived. Stress can actually be positive, as it may kick in with a tight deadline or a threatening situation that requires quick action.

When it creates ongoing symptoms and impairs your ability to get things done, however, it can quickly turn negative.

There are many emotional and physical disorders linked to stress, such as depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, gastrointestinal issues, obesity, and hypertension. Prolonged stress, in particular, can wreak havoc on your health. So it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms.

Common Symptoms of Stress:

  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Back and neck pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweaty hands and feet
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent illness
  • Irritability
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Excessive worry
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low energy
  • Loss of sex drive 1

While these are common symptoms, you’ll want to be able to recognize your specific responses to stress and how it affects you personally in order to find the best ways to cope.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a person’s internal reaction to stress; typically characterized by persistent feelings of apprehension or dread in situations that aren’t actually threatening. In severe cases, it can escalate into an anxiety disorder such as, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the US.

While the cause of stress can usually be identified, the cause of anxiety is often hard to pinpoint. Stress usually dissolves once the specific threat is resolved, but anxiety hangs around and can cause issues in important areas of functioning.

Symptoms of Anxiety:

  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Restlessness or edginess
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, stomachaches or dizziness
  • Physical symptoms like shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain
  • Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other areas of functioning 

When Should You Seek Help?

Whether you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, it’s likely you could benefit from seeking professional help and finding ways to cope with your symptoms. Neither stress nor anxiety is healthy to experience long-term. If you find that anxiety or prolonged stress is interfering with your daily life and inhibiting your ability to function normally, it’s probably time to seek professional help.

Here at SLOW we have an expert team that is able to help you learn coping and life skills to benefit your understanding of stress and anxiety and how to manage your stress and anxiety so that it does not hinder your quality of life when it comes up. 

Managing stress and anxiety is all about learning the right tools to ward off the sense of being overwhelmed. Make necessary lifestyle changes, create coping strategies, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel like you need it.

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