Anxious or Stressed? Tips to Identify and Conquer Both

Stress and anxiety are a common occurrence in our day-to-day living. Most people will experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees at some point in their lives. Depending on how severe the levels of stress and anxiety are, they can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life. While stress and anxiety share many of the same physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms, such as uneasiness, tension headaches, elevated blood pressure, and loss of sleep, they have different root causes. It is important to determine which one you are experiencing before you can find an effective treatment plan.

Understanding anxiety: from stress to disorders

Clinical anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, are quite severe conditions that need special professional attention. They are characterized by intense, repetitive, and chronic worried thoughts or fears that noticeably impair essential activities over a period of six months. This is often manifested by constant apprehension, severe fear in social situations, or physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeats and shortness of breath, that substantially affect your routine.

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However, mild anxiety and stressors are normal occurrences that can simply be caused by everyday setbacks or deadline pressures. While these worries can feel very intense, they are typically:

  • Temporary. In most instances, they are linked to specific situations and recede with time once pressure is relieved.
  • Manageable. Relaxation techniques, working out in the gym, or sharing with friends and relatives usually provide some relief.
  • Non-disruptive to daily life. Although they may need some care and attention, you might be able to carry on with your regular life work and relationships.

Distinguishing between stress and anxiety

Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or apprehensive is quite common — research statistics show that about 70% of adults experience both stress and anxiety at various times during the year. Although the terms are usually used interchangeably, it is important to know their differences to manage them effectively.

Think of stress as a response to a particular challenge, like a pending deadline or an intense conflict. This kind of pressure can be useful in the short term, as it gives you the energy to face that challenge. However, should it linger too long to become chronic, this can cause further ill effects on your health.

Anxiety, on the other hand, may not be based on a particular trigger — it can refer to general restlessness or dread when everything appears normal. This constant worry can cause insomnia and impaired concentration, interfering with your normal life.

Here's a quick breakdown of stress and anxiety:

StressAnxiety
Physical symptomsHeadaches, muscle pain, and fatigueTachycardia, breathing problems, and sweating
Emotional symptomsIrritability, feeling overburdened, and concentration problemsWorry, agitation, and insomnia
Trigger responseMust have a specific triggerDoesn't need a specific trigger
DurationUsually acuteUsually chronic
FocusPresent-orientated, responding to the specific triggerFuture-orientated, a general, deep worry about possible outcomes
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When stress becomes burnout

While stress and anxiety may lead to a sense of overload and being on edge, burnout is an entirely different type of exhaustion. Imagine it as the final stage, when all your emotional, physical, and mental reserves are exhausted. Burnout is a chronic state initiated by continual pressure, causing a loss of enthusiasm and passion as well as depression.

Here's a rundown on burnout:

  • Triggers. Burnout is commonly associated with persistent unresolved stress or excessive levels of demands that gradually accumulate over time.
  • Duration. Burnout is a chronic and persistent condition that takes a determined effort to overcome.
  • Motivation. Burnout may cause cynicism, detachment, and a lack of will to live that makes even the smallest difficulties one would have faced before seem large.
  • Hope. Burnout lowers the expectation of any success, accompanied by feelings that there is little one can do to better their situation.

Feeling unsure if it's burnout? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you emotionally and physically tired all the time, even after taking a rest?
  • Have the things you once loved lost their appeal, leaving you with no desire for them anymore?
  • Do you find yourself feeling cynical, disconnected, and powerless in your professional or personal life?

If these strike a chord, it is crucial to get professional advice. Attending to it early can help you reclaim your vitality, energy, and well-being.

Self-care tips for managing stress and anxiety

Fortunately, several evidence-based self-care strategies are available for coping with these emotions and developing a wholesome sense of well-being. However, keep in mind that these tips serve only as an initial guide, so if your symptoms affect you significantly, persist for a long time, and cause difficulties with your routine activities, contacting a mental health provider is advised.

Physical well-being

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Here are some tips for managing your physical health:

  • Nourish your body. Focus on a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Limit intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy high amounts of caffeine, which increase symptoms linked with anxiety.
  • Move your body. Consistent physical activity is one of the most effective stress-relievers and mood enhancers. Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days a week, like walking briskly.
  • Upkeep sleep hygiene. Focus on good quality sleep by taking care of your night-time routine. Create a comfortable and well-ventilated bed space in the dark with minimum noise.

Mental well-being

Your mental health is equally important for your personal development. Here are some strategies to help you with that:

  • Mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises are practices that can assist you in controlling anxious thoughts while, at the same time, cultivating inner peace. There are many apps that provide guided meditation, mindfulness activities, and journaling prompts, which can help your mental wellness.
  • Connecting with others. Social isolation can increase the degree of stress and anxiety. Build your relationships with family members, attend social events, or visit a mental health professional who could give you the necessary guidance.
  • Digital detox. Spend less time with technology and social media, as they can often lead to feelings of overwhelm and constant comparisons. Disconnect to reconnect with yourself and your external world again.
  • CBD supplements. While research is ongoing, some studies indicate that CBD may have some benefits for anxiety and stress management. However, be sure to check with your doctor before consuming any type of supplement.

Exploring professional treatment options

If self-help measures, such as exercise and mindfulness, have failed to provide long-term relief from stress, anxiety, or depression, seeking professional help is an important step in reclaiming one’s health. Always remember that asking for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your general practitioner (GP) is the first person you should consult — they can help navigate the maze of available treatments and tailor the treatment to your individual needs and symptom severity.

Psychotherapy

The most widely used and extensively studied treatment for both anxiety disorder and stress is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of treatment empowers you with tools to recognize and alter negative thought patterns as well as behaviors that underpin your distress.

If you are dealing with specific phobias, exposure therapy can bring about life-changing results. Using this approach, you gradually confront the things that frighten you in an enclosed and secure environment under the supervision of a trained therapist. By doing this repetitively, you can develop coping mechanisms that will reduce the impact these fears have on your life.

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Yet another approach, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), teaches you to accept negative emotions in a non-judgmental way, empowering you to live according to your values despite the tough internal battles.

Medication

Medication may also assist in handling pressure and worry. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help in controlling certain brain chemicals that influence mood and anxiety. Nevertheless, drugs should always be used with the advice of a healthcare practitioner and as part of other types of treatments.

As you consider the available treatment options, keep in mind that the 'best' approach will depend on your unique situation. The seriousness of your symptoms, personal preferences, and previous experiences determine what works best in the long term. Don't hesitate to discuss the options with your medical practitioner.

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