The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

Many people believe that there is no difference between stress and anxiety. They are actually different from each other but are very closely related. Let us try to understand each one and learn about the differences between them.

In everyday terms, stress is the name of a feeling that comes into play when a person is struggling to cope with the demands of daily life. Stress can take the form of physical or emotional tension and can make you feel nervous, frustrated and angry.

At times, stress can also be a motive to work harder. Nevertheless, if it increases beyond a certain limit, then it can hinder even normal daily routines. According to many surveys, the main causes of stress are issues related to money and employment.

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s response to challenges or demands. It is a natural defense mechanism against danger. Whenever we face a stressful situation, either physical or mental, our body activates certain resources to help fight that danger in an optimal way.

Events that trigger stress, or stressors, can range from things like noise, traffic, an upcoming exam to even going out on a date.

Stress and the Human Body

Stress has the ability to change the body’s functions in order to help us deal with the stressors properly. The human body experiences the following under stress:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing
  • Slower digestive system
  • Decreased immunity
  • Irregular sleep cycle and insomnia

As each of us is different on a personal level, how stress affects us is also different. A person who has adequate resources to fight the stressors is less likely to be affected as much as the person who does not have enough resources. It would be difficult for the latter individual to cope with such situations in a proper manner.

Sometimes, even the events that are considered positive can lead to stress, such as, moving to a new place, having a baby, getting a promotion, etc. This is because they lead to something new and unknown. It makes a person wonder whether he or she would be able to cope with it or not. They also involve new responsibilities, extra effort and a necessity to adapt to a new environment. If a person is prone to experiencing stress frequently, then this person’s mental and physical health is in danger.

Types of Stress

There is mainly two types of stress:

Acute Stress

It is the most common type of stress. It is caused by triggers like day-to-day stressful situations or thinking about near future problems. Acute stress does not cause as much damage as chronic stress. However, repeated acute stress can lead to chronic stress.

Chronic Stress

A person suffering from chronic stress faces issues and situations that seem to him or her as extremely difficult to deal with. He or she may stop seeking solutions and the stress becomes part of this person’s lifestyle and behavior. This type of stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, drug abuse, violence, and even suicide.

Common Causes of Stress

Anything can cause stress. Sometimes even thinking about the little things in life can cause us to stress out. Some major life events that can lead to it are:

  • Family problems
  • Illness
  • Lack of money
  • No retirement plans
  • Relationship problems
  • Abortion or miscarriage
  • Fear of crime
  • Recent accidents
  • Noise or overcrowding

It is completely normal that these situations can be stress triggers for some people and not for others.

Treatment and Management of Stress

Getting professional help in case you are suffering from chronic stress can help improve your life’s quality. Changing your lifestyle choices and habits is the first thing you should work on:

  • Exercise
  • Reducing the intake of caffeine and alcohol
  • Balanced diet
  • Prioritizing tasks and having to-do lists
  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Talking to family members or friends about your problems
  • Finding your de-stressors like going out for a walk, having a pet or reading a book, etc.

What is Anxiety?

Generally, when we talk about anxiety, we mean generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A person suffering from it feels anxious about the daily encounters of life over long periods of time.

Some of the main symptoms are:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Feelings of worry and fear
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Irregular sleep cycle and insomnia

How Anxiety Can Be Treated?

There are many ways to treat anxiety and one should always discuss the different options with their doctor to find the best way possible to treat it. Some of the therapies that your doctor may suggest are:

  • Talking therapy: Talking therapy is effective for most people suffering from anxiety especially when it is targeted toward a specific kind of anxiety.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is an example of a type of talking therapy (also called psychotherapy). It helps teach patients new ways to behave, think and react. It also helps improve their social skills that in turn helps fight social anxieties. CBT can be conducted individually or among groups
  • Anti-depressants: As we all know antidepressants are given in case of depression, but they can also be used in case of anxiety. They actually help control the way our brain control stress and mood, thus helping fight anxiety disorders.
  • Beta-blockers: They are used to treat high blood pressure. They can also be used to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety like shaking, trembling, increased heartbeat, etc. These medications can reduce the physical manifestations of anxiety to the minimum.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: These usually help reduce fear and worry and fight symptoms of panic attacks as well as general anxiety. The most common anti-anxiety meds are called benzodiazepines.

The Right Medication

Medication does not treat anxiety but rather help deal with it. Patients should work with their doctor closely to find what medication works best for them, as some medications work best for specific types of anxiety. Some concerns or questions that should always be discussed between you and your doctor are:

  • Advantages and disadvantages of medication
  • Side effects of medication
  • Lifestyle changes required for medication
  • Quality of life after starting medication
  • Cost-effectiveness of such drugs
  • Alternative therapies

The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

As mentioned above, stress is caused by the pressure of daily events and encounters causing our body to change accordingly in order to deal with them. Chronic stress will cause negative effects like high blood pressure, strokes, drug abuse, and difficulty in concentration.

Anxiety is also one of the negative effects of chronic stress. Stress itself is a normal response to daily life stressors.

Anxiety is what remains after the stressors are gone.

Stressing out about an exam or a meeting is completely normal. A prolonged disturbance in the quality of life due to stressors like that is not.

A person will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if the stress is causing a negative effect on behavior and life’s quality especially in the absence of any prominent stressful events.

Stress and anxiety also have the same physical symptoms:

  • Muscle pain in chest, neck, and back
  • Inflammations
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Diarrhea
  • Palpitations
  • Difficulty in concentration

If a person is stressed about some problem, he or she will be anxious about getting a solution for it. If this anxiousness increases in response to minor stressors so much and so often that daily life routines are disturbed, then a person is thought to be suffering from anxiety.

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