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While most of us will have experienced stress and anxiety at some point in our lives, it can be tricky to distinguish between the two. Stress and anxiety are manifested in similar ways. Symptoms tend to overlap and can be similar in intensity and duration.

Stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on quality of life, in one or more areas. Both can impact your physical health, ability to function, and interfere with your social life. If your symptoms are taking a toll on your day-to-day or on a specific area of your life, counselling can help. Learning how to manage your symptoms and reducing or resolving them altogether can improve your overall quality of life. Being able to distinguish between stress and anxiety can help you get the right kind of support. Recognizing your symptoms is an important first step towards taking action.

So, how do we distinguish between the two?

The main difference between stress and anxiety is causation.

Stress is a response to a specific trigger and is usually short-term. Anxiety is usually more prolonged and can have multiple triggers.

Stress is a natural response to feeling overloaded or challenged by a specific situation. When we feel stressed we can usually pinpoint the cause.

With anxiety, however, the cause or trigger is less clear. It is characterized by persistent, excessive thoughts and worries that refuse to dissipate, even in the absence of a definitive trigger. In other words, worry or physical sensations that signal fear tend to stick around even when stressors are no longer present.

 

What is Stress?

Stress is caused by an external situation that results in physical tension and emotional distress resulting from changes in the environment that force one to adapt. Hence, even positive changes such as having a baby, or promotion can bring about stress.  Stress, that isn’t chronic, has a shorter duration than anxiety, and can be positive in certain scenarios (i.e. forces you to study before an exam). 

Prolonged high levels of stress can lead to physical and mental issues if untreated. This is because when a stress-induced situation occurs, the body goes into “fight or flight” to combat this situation. When repeatedly activated due to chronic stress, it can keep the body and mind in a constant state of fight or flight.”

A number of physical and mental issues are linked to stress. Examples include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Back and/or neck pain
  • Feeling light-headed, faint, or dizzy
  • Sweaty palms or feet
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle tension

 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion or sustained disorder that can be triggered by stress. It typically shows up as a general feeling of uneasiness and discomfort. People with anxiety often experience recurring intrusive thoughts that can lead them to avoid potentially triggering situations.

Anxiety is meant to keep us alert and safe, however, it may prove to be problematic if symptoms persist. If symptoms are recurring and cause significant distress or impairment,  you may have an anxiety disorder.

Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Sweating
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense

 

Do you need help?

It is important to understand what triggers your stress or anxiety to find strategies and coping mechanisms that work for you. If you’re experiencing stress that isn’t chronic, it may help to meditate, exercise, talk to a friend, journal, or do something relaxing such as taking a bath.

If stress or anxiety is interfering with your daily life or prevents you from carrying on with your routine, events or work and social interactions, consider talking to a professional. Proper and timely treatment can prevent anxiety disorders and chronic stress from developing and persisting.

 

If this sounds like something you need help with, contact me to lessen or resolve your symptoms of stress or anxiety.