Stress and anxiety are buzzwords in nearly every industry. While they may be used interchangeably in casual conversation, they are in fact quite different in how they are triggered, experienced, and treated. Stress is a normal part of life, whereas anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in America, affecting 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Understanding the differences is the first step to taking control of both.
Causes of Stress vs. Anxiety
Most people experience stress in everyday life, from juggling projects at work and paying the bills to toting kids to soccer and getting dinner on the table. It may be true that these responsibilities can be stressful, but it is also true that they are stressors that, in these cases, provide motivation to accomplish goals in every aspect of life. On the contrary, anxiety is sometimes triggered by stressors and sometimes comes from seemingly nowhere. It typically undermines productivity.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress vs. Anxiety
Stress can behave like pop-up ads, forcing people to tackle the task at hand. But not too long after the event, their system is back to a normal state. Sometimes the work of handling the tasks can have negative results, such as sleep disturbance, forgetfulness, back and neck pain, low energy, and gastrointestinal problems. Anxiety runs in the background, causing a constant state of worry. Common symptoms include hypervigilance, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and an exaggerated startle response. Anxiety can also result in psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or dizziness and physical symptoms like shortness of breath. Most notably, anxiety can cause impairment at work or within interpersonal relationships.
Coping With Stress and Anxiety
Knowing how to manage stress can be the difference between it having a motivational or detrimental effect. Using calming techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, journaling, and down-tempo music can all contribute to a healthy experience of common stress. The same methods can be applied to coping with anxiety, along with sleep regulation, proper nutrition, and refraining from caffeine or alcohol.
If stress or anxiety continues after trying to cope, there are several resources that can help further. Talk therapy can be beneficial for both stress and anxiety, helping to identify triggers and strategize solutions. For uncontrolled anxiety, a doctor may recommend antidepressants to help alleviate symptoms and offer long-term relief.