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Is It Stress or Is It Anxiety?

If we want to know how to reduce stress or how to deal with anxiety, we first need to understand the differences between the two in order to correctly identify the problem.
A Black woman massaging her temples as though she is stressed or anxious.

Stress and Anxiety Are a Normal Part of Life

Sometimes we get so used to hearing about anxiety as a disorder that we can forget that there is such a thing as regular old stress and anxiety.

There was a time when we would talk about feeling “under pressure” rather than calling ourselves “stressed out,” and we would say that we “have a lot of worries” rather than talking about “having anxiety.”

But many of us don’t have an anxiety disorder or chronic stress and do experience completely normal levels of these feelings.

So if we are ready to accept that difficult feelings are a normal part of life’s challenges, then most of us can handle those challenges if we find and use strategies that work for us.

Stress and Anxiety Are Not the Same Thing

You may have noticed that it’s become more common to use the terms “stress” and “anxiety” almost interchangeably. However, it’s important to understand that they are not the same thing.

And if you want to know how to reduce stress or how to deal with anxiety, you will first need to understand the differences between the two because after all, it is much easier to solve a problem once you correctly identify what the problem actually is.

What Stress and Anxiety May Have in Common

Stress and anxiety share some similarities and can overlap in that they both can increase what we think of as negative emotions and they both can cause physical symptoms such as restlessness, tension, fatigue, and problems with sleep.

But while they can have a similar impact on our mind and body, they do also have some characteristics that set them apart.

Differences Between Stress and Anxiety

Stress Is a Reaction to Current Internal or External Stressors

We all experience stress at some point in our lives: it’s that feeling of being overwhelmed or under pressure. Physically it can cause headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension, for example.

Stress can be triggered by work, relationships, finances, or any situation or event that demands our attention.

But it can have positive effects, motivating us to perform better and meet deadlines. Some folks even say they work better under stress.

When we are experiencing relatively normal levels and periods of stress, there are strategies we can use to alleviate its effects.

Normal stress is usually temporary, and once the stressors change or go away, things can go back to normal. 

Anxiety Is a Reaction to Perceived Anticipated Threats in the Future

Anxiety is more future-focussed and feels like worry, fear, or apprehension. Like stress, anxiety can manifest physically through symptoms such as restlessness, muscle tension, and sleeping troubles.

Worry, fear, and apprehension are also normal feelings to experience and can help us to identify challenges we need to deal with.

Normal anxiety does not have to interfere with daily functioning and can even help us prioritize, focus, and get things done.

What If These Feelings Persist, Become Excessive, or More?

If sources of stress can not be eliminated or responses to stressors can not be managed, stress can become chronic or even a trigger for anxiety. 

Sometimes anxiety can be a worry or fear that persists even when there’s no immediate or future threat. 

If you suspect that you have chronic stress, an anxiety disorder, or some other mental health or medical concern, then you should consult a medical professional because long term and excessive stress and/or anxiety can end up affecting multiple aspects of our lives.

Are You Ready to Accept that Stress and Anxiety Are a Normal Part of Life?

If you are looking for ways to manage difficult thoughts and feelings, I may be able to help you find strategies that work for you.

If you’re struggling with stress, I can work with you one-to-one to help you develop stress management strategies that work for you.

If you are tired of trying to “control” or “positive think” your worries away, I offer a coaching program designed to help you accept anxiety as a normal part of life.

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