What is anxiety versus stress and how can you tell the difference?
The idea that we can live a life without any stress is like trying to climb Mount Everest with your feet tied together. It just doesn’t make sense!
But when does stress go too far? And how can you differentiate between stress and anxiety?
My name is Naomi Stockman from Anxiety Free Life, and today in this blog we are talking about the difference between stress and anxiety. How can you tell the difference?
Stress is a natural part of life. There’s actually a necessity for stress because without a bit of stress, we wouldn’t actually get out of bed in the morning.
Stress can come from deadlines at work, pressure with kids or relationships, but we cope. We figure it out and we cope. Good stress (called Eustress) is good for us and it keeps us moving forward. But bad stress is called distress, and that may feel really uncomfortable for you.
So if we’re thinking about stress, we think about external situations, we’re talking about external pressures or events. You may feel stressed before an exam, or if you’ve got a big thing on at work, or if you’re going through something life changing. It’s something that’s unpleasant but usually the stress goes away once the situation is cleared.
The stress is not there permanently, it’s rational and there’s a cause. A situation can be over and once again the stress can be removed from your life. You don’t have the feelings there if you were on a beach in Fiji and everything’s okay, you’re not going to have this stress still sitting there.
Let’s now take a look at Anxiety…
Anxiety is irrational. It doesn’t need a logical trigger. It’s not circumstantial, it can be there unexpectedly when you wake up in the morning for example. Anxiety is physical and is triggered by the unconscious, not by a situation, circumstance or event.
It doesn’t go away when we’re in a safe or calm situation. It’s always there looking in the background and it’s a response feeling, often just like it’s happening for you now, but nothing’s actually happening in reality. It can just happen when there is no trigger or any danger.
Going back to stress now, let’s dive in a little further…
If you suffer from stress in the long term it can cause dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. This can lead to health issues because all that cortisol and adrenaline runs through our system, which affects our digestion and immune system.
Our immune system needs us to be down-regulated in order to be functioning. You might notice that it can affect your digestive system and you may need to go to the bathroom or even feel like you may vomit.
You may find it hard to wind down, hard to relax. It may even be hard to sleep, you may have racing thoughts. I know if you’ve got something big on the next day, it can be hard to get to sleep. You might be thinking about what you are going to be doing tomorrow. Like you’re living it out the whole day or the event or whatever you’ve got planned tomorrow, it can really play on your mind!.
You’re living it out in your mind before it has even had a chance to happen because it is stressful or perhaps even exciting and nervousness is a type of stress. Excitement is also a type of stress, so stress really can make up a big part of our everyday living.
Now, heading back to anxiety again, here is the difference…..
With anxiety, we could be just doing something really calm and natural. And out of what seems like nowhere, the body decides to just have an anxiety response as if something’s happening in real time. Even though the threat is not real, it feels real to the person having the panic attack.
Then the cycle starts….the more panic people have, the more they become anxious or panicking. Potentially having another panic attack. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what types of anxiety are there?
To start with, there’s generalised anxiety disorder. That’s basically like an ongoing sense of pending doom and worry. It’s just always hanging over. You could have intrusive thoughts or things like that. A diagnosis for generalised anxiety disorder requires you to feel like this for six months. Imagine feeling that way for six months? That’s really tough mentally and physically on your body.
Then we have social anxiety. This is basically fear of everything to do with being out in a social situation and around people, and that can involve feeling like you are being judged. People may believe there are others around them laughing at them or they feel humiliation when out in social situations.
There is also separation anxiety and often we associate this with children, but even dogs can suffer this! It’s feeling the loss of security when you are away from someone or somewhere.
Then we have phobias, which are irrational fears. The most common ones are things like spiders or heights, but people can have phobias for anything. They can cause a lot of stress for many people.
Stress is about appropriate pressure from external sources but anxiety is more physical and fear based.
Anxiety may cause dryness in your mouth, you may be trembling, your heart’s racing. You’re breathless and have very uncomfortable body feelings. So you can appreciate why people would want to take medication for this because it feels like something you just wish wasn’t there and would go away.
I’m sure that there’s many people reading this who can relate and perhaps who have had different experiences or unique experiences, but either way, if you are feeling extreme ongoing stress or anxiety, neither of them are pleasant and can be exhausting.
I hope this has answered some of your questions and helped you to understand what the difference is between stress and anxiety.
If you or a loved one is seeking guidance for stress or anxiety, please get in touch with myself or the team here at My Local Hypnosis and we would love to help you along on your journey.