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Although stress and anxiety are both emotional responses that manifest themselves similarly in your body, the difference between the two is distinct - and important for your pursuit of wholeness. Managing stress and anxiety are challenges that we can all relate to in our humanness, amidst our lived experiences. Understanding the difference between stress and anxiety can be tricky, so here’s a little guide to support you:
Stress is triggered by an external circumstance - anything from financial pressure to relationship conflicts to overcommitted responsibilities. Usually you’re able to recognize the specific situation or trigger, because stress is often in response to more short-term or immediate circumstances (Talk Space, 2022). Stress responses are actually necessary for your safety; they send a signal to your body to be on alert, due to an external threat. This is important to acknowledge and accept, so that you can first show gratitude to your body for keeping you safe, before reassuring your body that you are safe and stress is not necessary or supportive in the moment.
When you experience a stress trigger, your body produces extra cortisol to prepare you for a fight or flight response (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). This can cause a multitude of symptoms, including overwhelm, irritability, general unhappiness, frustration and loneliness.
When stressed, your thoughts might look like:
Sometimes it can be hard to put stress-related feelings into words, but they also manifest themselves physically. What does stress feel like in your body? You may experience nausea, dizziness, digestive troubles or trouble sleeping, faster breathing and an increased heart rate (Medical News Today, 2020). Stress can also lead to anxious feelings…so what’s the difference?
How we interpret and respond to stress, and the prediction or assumption that it will get worse, can lead to the feeling of anxiety. Unlike stress, anxiety is harder to pinpoint…the trigger may not be identifiable, and it can be felt more chronically than stress. Anxiety is often persistent, even in the absence of a stressor (Medical News Today, 2020).
Anxiety activates different parts of your brain than stress, including your amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which cause feelings of fear or worry. Physically, you might experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, chest pain, blurry vision, insomnia or panic attacks (American Psychological Association, 2022).
*It’s important to note here that we are talking about anxious feelings, vs. clinical anxiety.*
Anxious thoughts might look like:
So now that you have a little more clarity in identifying stress and anxiety, what can you do to support your mind and body? Here are a few coping mechanisms to support you along your journey:
Mental health is as important as physical, and you deserve to be happy and feel grounded.
You are not in a rush.
You are doing enough - you are enough.
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