Stressed out or just Anxious? What's the Difference?

We all know that feeling; the stomach ache, tense muscles, trouble sleeping, rapid breathing, the nervousness and a feeling of being restless for no apparent reason.  These are just a few of symptoms of stress and anxiety. But what is the difference from being stressed out or just anxious?

Stress and anxiety both trigger negative emotions, and though often used interchangeably they are two separate things. Learning the difference between stress and anxiety is the first step to figuring out the causes and how to manage it, allowing you to enjoy life.


Stress vs. Anxiety

Stress is your body’s response to external pressures in life, such as deadlines at work, handling finances or expectations from family and friends. During a stressful situation your body releases hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine, which typically causes rapid breathing, muscle tension, rise in blood pressure. Otherwise known as the Fight or Flight response. When the stressful event has passed, your body should return back to normal.


Anxiety is a heightened feeling of fear, excessive worry or apprehension about future events. You may feel anxious about a dreaded presentation at work or being able to pay your next month’s rent. Symptoms are almost identical with stress. Anxiety doesn’t happen from a single circumstance but usually from a combination of things. When looking at how anxiety affects you, the following issue need to be considered; difficult life experiences, physical health and your personality.


Left unchecked, long periods of stress and anxiety may result in negative related health issues. These being a increased risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and may even develop further into depression and a anxiety disorder.


Overcoming stress and anxiety

Your lifestyle choices may contribute greatly to what’s making you feel stressed and anxious. These self-help strategies may help minimise stress and anxiety.


  1. Recognise your stressors

What’s making you feel stressed? Is it about your new job? Are you dealing with a difficult relationship? Being able to identify “What it is”, that stresses you out is the first step to managing your stress and anxiety.


  1. Deep breathing

When you feel stressed or anxious, your breath quickens constricting your blood vessels diverting oxygen enrich blood down to your legs. Getting ready for that fight or flight response. It’s no wonder that it is hard to think straight! Your brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen enrich blood to process complex decision making thoughts. By practicing deep breathing exercises, your body and blood vessels will begin to relax.  You will find that you can think straight and making decisions will become easier.


  1. Exercise

Regular physical movement can help relieve mental stress, as it lowers stress hormones, improve sleep quality and improve your mood.


  1. Eat healthy

Maintain a balanced, healthy diet. Minimise caffeine intake as this can cause increased anxiety. Avoid alcohol or drugs.


  1. Keep a journal

Writing in your journal can be therapeutic. You can write about what you’re stressed about at the moment. Another approach is to write down all the positive things in your life to help your mind focus on these.


  1. Make time for hobbies

Include leisure activities in your daily schedule. This is a great time to take a break from all responsibilities and just enjoy the moment.


  1. Talk to someone

Just having a healthy conversation with a friend, a family member, or anyone who understands and makes you feel safe can already reduce stress and anxiety.


Not everyone may have a close friend or relative they can lean on when they’re gripped by overwhelming stress and anxiety. Talking to counsellor can give you a sense of belongingness and self-worth, and improve your resilience against your stressors in life.

Yes, it’s normal for people to go through stressful moments and become anxious. But when experienced over a long period of time, these can lead to more serious issues, like gastrointestinal problems and heart diseases. More importantly, stress or anxiety can interfere with your daily life.

Whatever you’re struggling with at the moment, know that you don’t have to go through all of it alone. You can always seek help and talk to someone you trust about your issues and believe that you can get back to a better state of mind.

Fiona Stevenson Gold Coast

Fiona Stevenson counselling psychotherapist Gold Coast

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