The difference between stress and anxiety
Posted by Justine Clarabut on 18 May, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought mental health into the spotlight more than ever. New and increased concerns for the health of ourselves and our loved ones, the constraints on physical movement and social activities, and sudden lifestyle changes have all taken their toll on our mental health. A recent review of virus outbreaks and pandemics documented stressors such as infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma3.
Past research shows that the prevalence of epidemics creates new fears and worries, or can accentuate existing ones. According to a study carried out in the US amongst University Students, a staggering 71% indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak1.
Nonetheless, feelings of anxiety, worry or fear are normal responses to certain situations. These feelings are to help us be alert and aware of risks so we know what to do in dangerous or difficult situations. Most people will experience some sort of stress and anxiety during their lives. However, depending on the level of severity of stress or anxiety, both these conditions can have a detrimental impact on our everyday lives.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety, are quite similar but they have different origins.
Stress is usually short-lived and is caused by an external event or situation such as moving home, losing a loved one, a deadline at work or even stuck in traffic! It can be a positive thing as it helps us deal with difficult situations. However, it can become a negative response if it results in an impaired ability to do the things you would normally do. It can cause people to experience many different mental and physical symptoms as well as affecting how you feel and how you behave. Symptoms can include low energy, headaches, tension, irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, chest pain, problems sleeping and much more.
Feeling anxious is a normal emotion that can happen to any of us. For example, before an exam, an interview, or a presentation. However, some people find that their worries don’t go away and they can become persistent and excessive, carrying on even after a concern or worry has passed. This is called anxiety (or generalised anxiety disorder). It can cause restlessness, a sense of dread, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of being on edge. It affects our physical health too, with symptoms such as trembling, increased heart rate, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea and sweating2. Feelings of fear and danger can make you feel as though things are worse than they actually are. The quicker that anxiety is recognised the better. With the right help and support, it will prevent the condition from worsening and causing further symptoms and anguish4.
Effective ways to help you recognise and relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety
Take a look at yourself and what is going on in your body. It’s very important to understand whether you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, so you can find the most effective treatment plan to help you feel better. If you haven’t been feeling your best lately and would like to understand more, you could take the NHS Mood Assessment self-assessment quiz This quiz will help you to understand what you are feeling and will point you in the right direction for some helpful advice and information. If you are very concerned or your symptoms are affecting your daily life, then we would always suggest that you consult your GP (See Get Support below)
Find an activity that helps to distract you from feelings of anxiety. This will help you to focus on something other than your body, thoughts and feelings. This will help you to calm your mind.
Creativity helps the mind to relax and is also a form of distraction. The immersive nature of things such as painting, writing, drawing, sewing, cooking and sculpting can have a meditative effect as it helps to control our thoughts and focus the mind.
When feeling anxious or stressed, try some relaxation techniques as this will help your body to relax by slowing down your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation and guided imagery are great ways to focus and relax the mind.
Physical activity and exercise release feel-good hormones in your brain. Therefore, taking regular exercise can help prevent the negative impact of stress on our bodies and mind.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a talking therapy. It is based around the idea that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap us in a vicious cycle. It is one of the most research-supported treatments for stress and anxiety5
Everyone experiences times of increased stress which can feel overwhelming. However, it is important to get support and help from your doctor or GP if you feel that your stress or anxiety is interrupting your daily routine and preventing you from carrying out normal daily duties.
References and further reading