By Erica Blasso
As a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, I specialize in treating clinical anxiety in my private practice. Due to the realities of our modern living, we have never been more stressed out. Anxiety is the most common mental health struggle amongst individuals today, with estimates that anxiety will affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. Let’s discuss the differences between stress and anxiety and effective ways to cope with both.
Stress and anxiety is a normal part of being human and not always a negative thing as both are part of our built in survival system. When we perceive threat or danger, our nervous system transitions into fight-or-flight and releases stress hormones throughout the body. The purpose of this built in alarm system is to make sure we are alert, focused, and ready to deal with any threat. Stress and anxiety are healthy to an extent in which they are not interfering with our normal everyday functioning. However, an individual who is experiencing prolonged stress can develop issues with anxiety as stress is the body’s reaction to threat and anxiety is the body’s reaction to stress. Chronic stress can hinder an individual when it leads to insomnia, poor concentration, and decreased functioning in life.
There is also what is referred to as good stress, this type of stress is positive when manageable and enhances an individual’s alertness, performance, and motivation. In situations that call for our peak concentration or performance, we want to experience this beneficial type of stress.
So what’s the difference between stress and anxiety? It can be tricky to tell each apart from one another because they are part of the same reaction in the body. Stress tends to be short term and is a response to a recognized threat. Stress usually stems from common modern day causes such as a busy schedule, adapting to a life change, and financial stress. Once we’ve passed the threat, stress usually dissipates. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a worry or impending doom about things that may go wrong in the future. Anxiety can linger much longer after we have exited a stressful or threatening situation, which makes it difficult to manage.
To manage stress and anxiety it can be helpful to appreciate how the mind, body, and soul connect. Read along for different ways to cope.
Identify triggers + avoidance behaviors
Challenge unhelpful thoughts around anxiety, fears, and stress
Developing a gratitude practice
Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routines
Speaking to a licensed therapist
Body centered practices (pilates, yoga, tai-chi, massage therapy)
Progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing
Engage the 5 senses
Be mindful how dehydration, sugar, stimulants, and alcohol affect you
Properly nourish your body with the enough of the right foods
Engage in community that feels safe
Connect with life values
Commune with nature
Connect with any special rituals
A lot of anxiety can be prevented. Preventive measures to combat our body going into fight or flight unnecessarily is making sure to avoid long stretches between meals, getting enough quality sleep, having time in your day where you’re not unstimulated with technology, and planning your daily schedule ahead of time to avoid rushing between tasks and appointments.
If you think you may have clinical anxiety then it is crucial you work with a licensed mental health therapist because anxiety is very tricky to treat on one's own and there is so much nuance around it that what we do to cope with anxiety usually inadvertently prolongs our suffering by feeding the cycle of anxiety.
- Stress and anxiety is a normal part of being human and not always a negative thing as both are part of our built in survival system.
- It can be tricky to tell stress and anxiety apart because they are part of the same reaction in the body. Stress tends to be short term and is a response to a recognized threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a worry or impending doom about things that may go wrong in the future. Anxiety can linger much longer after we have exited a stressful or threatening situation, which makes it difficult to manage.
- To manage stress and anxiety it can be helpful to appreciate how the mind, body, and soul connect and have several coping tools.
- There are many lifestyle changes we can do to help prevent experiencing anxiety and stress.
- Clinical anxiety is tricky to treat on one's own and working with a licensed mental health professional may be indicated. There are many ways one attempts to cope with anxiety that inadvertently prolongs their suffering.
Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT #114828) practicing statewide in California. In her private practice she provides individual psychotherapy for the modern woman who’s struggling with anxiety, perfectionism, and relationship challenges. To learn more about working with her, visit www.ericabassotherapy.com. You can also connect with Erica on Instagram @ericabassotherapy.