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Is Anxiety The Same As Stress? Key Differences To Know 2023
Feeling overwhelmed and anxious is stressful. Likewise, being under stress can lead to feelings of overwhelm and create anxiety. But is stress the same as anxiety? Technically, they are different, even though there is overlap between the two, and often a reciprocal pattern where one exacerbates the other.
While under stress, a person can experience emotional and/or physical symptoms such as frustration, body aches and pains, digestive disruption, skin breakouts, anger, and fatigue. Anxiety is not the same as stress, but rather, a persistent state of worry which does not subside, regardless of stress level.
Difference Between Stress And Anxiety
While both anxiety and stress can cause similar symptoms, they are not the same. In fact, anxiety could be a symptom of stress. Additionally, an individual can have stress without anxiety, or anxiety without stress.
This article will parse out the key differences between anxiety and stress, and discuss some treatment options for both.
Is Stress The Same As Anxiety?
Though they share many similar traits and symptoms, anxiety is not the same as stress. Simply, stress is mental tension which arises from emotional or physical difficulty. Stress is a natural and healthy response to potential danger; it would be abnormal for humans to never experience any stress.
How we deal with stress can make a huge difference in whether or not it will cause symptoms, such as anxiety. Stress can be chemical (such as ingesting poor quality food or toxins), physical (such as sustaining a bodily injury), or emotional (such as trying to adhere to work deadlines).
Stress can further be divided into two categories: acute or chronic. Acute stress arises when there is an isolated incident and subsides shortly after the incident, whereas chronic stress can last for days, weeks, months, or even years.
Anxiety could be a symptom of stress and also a mental health condition, depending on how severe and persistent it is. Anxiety is defined by a state of unease, fear, worry and apprehension which can cause varying symptoms.
Though anxiety may seem scary, like stress, it is normal to feel a certain amount of anxiety, especially in appropriate situations (for example, before giving a presentation). It’s when anxiety becomes persistent, overwhelming, and crippling, especially without qualifying triggers, that it is problematic and may require treatment.
Symptoms Of Stress And Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms and stress symptoms can be similar. Some symptoms of stress include:
- Pain or headaches.
- Skin breakouts.
- Digestive issues.
- Low energy.
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things.
- Appetite dysregulation.
- Hormonal dysregulation.
- Sleep difficulty.
- Sexual disinterest or dysfunction.
- Weight changes.
Some symptoms of anxiety and anxiety disorders include:
- Restlessness/inability to relax.
- Excessive worry.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Racing or fluttering heart/heart palpitations.
- Nausea or dizziness.
- Digestive disturbances.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Feelings of dread or loss of control.
- Sweating, chills, and/or shaking.
An anxiety disorder can typically be diagnosed if the symptoms above persist more often than not for six months. One must also experience significant impairment in daily functioning due to these symptoms. This is not an exhaustive list of all possible symptoms associated with anxiety and/or stress.
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Causes Of Stress And Anxiety
Generally speaking, stress happens when the mind or body feels overwhelmed by responsibility, life problems, or physical stressors such as environmental toxins. Similarly, a person can feel anxious if they perceive feelings or situations to be too challenging to cope with.
In today’s world, there are many possible factors that can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. This, again, will vary from person to person.
Additionally, not all stress comes from negative situations or emotions. Eustress, or “positive” stress, is the stress one may go through when making happy changes in their life (such as getting married or buying a home). Some causes of stress and anxiety include:
- Predisposition/family history of anxiety.
- Work/school/professional demands.
- Family pressures and responsibilities.
- Financial worries/being unemployed.
- Emotional stresses such as caring for a sick relative or getting a divorce.
- Any life change, such as moving or changing relationship status.
- Feeling uncertain.
- Feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.
- Grief, sadness, anger, and other burdensome emotions.
How To Manage Stress And Anxiety
Many natural remedies are available to help alleviate both stress and anxiety.
Meditation is the act of consciously doing nothing. It’s a time to sit or lay down, focus on your breath, and take a break from mental chatter. Many people enjoy guided meditations while others prefer to meditate silently. Meditation can be as short or as long as you need it to be, but it’s most helpful when practiced every day.
Irregular or inadequate sleep can worsen anxiety and add more stress to a person’s plate. In order to get the mind and body into an ongoing state of relaxation, it’s essential to get quality sleep on a regular basis. Consider adding in a nightly tea ritual or an electronics curfew to get better sleep with anxiety.
Many people turn to exercise as a way to manage stress and anxiety. When we’re stressed or anxious, our body is in fight-or-flight mode–it’s a natural stress response. We are filled with adrenaline and cortisol, prepared to fight or flee. Yet, since there is no actual danger, we have a build up of energy that needs to be released.
Short bouts of intense exercise is one way to release that energy, which can help anxiety dissipate. Alternatively, you may find that a more calming, grounding exercise, such as tai chi or yoga, can help manage your anxiety and stress better.
Keeping a journal handy and writing down all your feelings, frustrations, and concerns, no matter how trivial they may seem, is a great way to identify the cause of your stress.
Once the source of stress or anxiety is recognized, it becomes easier to manage. You are now working with a clearer map on the road to feeling better.
Many people enlist professionals to help them manage their stress and anxiety. This is especially important for those who are struggling with anxiety disorders in which the symptoms can be overwhelming.
There are a variety of therapy approaches that can be beneficial for the treatment of anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapies, humanistic therapies, and psychoanalytic therapies.
Many natural herbs for anxiety are readily available in stores. Stress-reducing herbs, or adaptogens, target stress specifically, allowing the body to calm down and focus without feeling sedated or wired.
Treatment For Stress And Anxiety
Treating stress and anxiety is nuanced. There is no one-size-fits all approach. Every person has a different threshold for anxiety and/or stress, which can change throughout their life. Some people prefer using CBD oil for anxiety while others require medication.
Additionally, there are varying degrees of stress and anxiety that warrant their own specialized forms of treatment. For example, the treatment for generalized anxiety will be quite different from the treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A therapist who specializes in treating PTSD may employ more trauma-informed approaches, such as eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, internal family systems (IFS) therapy, and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).
Those with anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder or panic disorder may experience frequent panic attacks when in crowds. For these individuals, cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy may be required. Therapies, medications, and supplements will need to be tailored to the individual and account for the severity of their symptoms.
Anxiety and stress are often spoken of as if they were the same thing, however, they have unique makeups and symptoms. Stress is a natural bodily response to life changes, events, the environment, and situations. Stress can be acute or chronic. Anxiety is a more persistent feeling of dread and fear, which can lead to various anxiety disorders.
Both stress and anxiety can produce similar symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, and digestive disruption. Many of the modalities to manage stress also work for anxiety, such as meditation, deep breathing, therapy, and sleep. When needed, a doctor may prescribe medication to help manage anxiety.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Stress can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause stress. However, this may not be the case for everyone. Take time to know your own stress triggers and symptoms.
If you have tried to manage the anxiety on your own through healthy lifestyle habits and have had no success, or if your anxiety is interfering in daily life, you should seek medical attention.
Any medical doctor can prescribe medication, so they can assist you if you need medication for anxiety, and many people do get prescriptions from their MD. However, if possible, it’s best to see a psychiatrist or another doctor who specializes in mental health disorders.
Yes, adaptogen herbs can be purchased from many health food stores, however, similar to medication, they should not be taken without professional guidance. Every herb has a specific function, and some may be more helpful for concentration, relaxation, or sleep. All supplementation should be overseen by a qualified health practitioner who is familiar with using herbs for anxiety.
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