WARNING: You must know the difference between stress and anxiety

Why must you know the difference between stress and anxiety?

Because they should be treated differently. Treating stress as anxiety may be OK, but treating anxiety as stress can actually do more damage and exacerbate the anxiety.

What is the difference?

  • Stress is a product of every day life; anxiety is primitive.
  • Stress can be controlled; anxiety cannot be controlled.
  • Stress happens in the cortex part of the brain; anxiety happens in the limbic part of the brain.
  • Stress and anxiety are often experienced in different parts of the body
  • Stress is physical while anxiety is emotional.
  • Stress is choice-based; anxiety is not.
  • Stress is about coping; anxiety is about survival.

My experience of stress and anxiety

I feel stress in my shoulders and neck. When I am stressed my shoulder muscles bunch up tightly. If I ignore it, I eventually end up at the chiropractor and having needles stuck all over my back. When I take proper care of myself, I have a sports massage (you’re probably thinking “Oh that’s so nice” – believe me, it is anything but nice!!) which straightens out and loosens the muscles.

I feel anxiety in my diaphragm and it’s a very strong sensation usually accompanied by fear.

What to do with stress

Stress means that your life has to be managed. You need to change something so that you are able to cope better with life. You need to work with pacing – what are the different aspects of your life and what do you need to do more or less of…

Much of my coaching revolves around helping clients to cope better with their load – delegating/ shifting/ saying no/ asking for support/ not working on weekends are some of the actions my clients adopt.

What to do with anxiety.

Anxiety is a warning system. You should never ‘try to get rid of it’ because it is essential to your survival. Anxiety is usually appropriate. It’s like an alarm bell that rings that tells you that your survival is at stake.

There are different levels of anxiety depending on what is happening. Imagine the anxiety that you may experience crossing a busy road, or being held up at gun-point, or discovering that you’ve been retrenched or realizing that your best friend has betrayed you. A coach can hep you to work with these anxious feelings.

Your anxiety helps you to make a good decision in the moment and to deal with the situation. Never try to ‘fix’ your anxiety. Rather listen to it and work with it.

Of course, sometimes it feels like the alarm won’t switch off, and you may find your anxiety has become intolerable - you can’t bear to be parted from someone or you can’t manage to do any work or you feel abandoned by everyone or you feel terrified and petrified most of the time or wake up full of dread every morning.

If you are experiencing this kind of anxiety it is imperative to get help – ask your GP for a referral OR  visit a psychotherapist – these people are trained to help you deal with those overpowering feelings. Don’t delay – the sooner you get help the better.

Take some action

Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is important because they need to be treated differently. Treating anxiety by trying to cope better or changing things so that you can cope better will only increase your anxiety. Make sure you are coping with your stress by changing some of your behaviours. See a coach or psychotherapist if you need help with this. A coach can also help you to deal with your anxiety – but if it is intolerable, it would be better to see a psychotherapist. You know best what you need.

“Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” 

Hans Selye

Whether it is stress or anxiety – do take some action to deal with it.

How do you copy with stress and / anxiety?

Share your experiences so we can all benfit by commenting below….

About Kirsten Long

Coach. Toastmaster. Prison-worker. Wife. Mother. Friend.
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8 Responses to WARNING: You must know the difference between stress and anxiety

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  3. Glenys says:

    I was very interested in this topic. As Noluntando says we bandy the words about without inderstanding fully the impact of either. I am a laughter therapist, and am passionate about using aerobic laughter as a de-stress tool. My take on stress/anxiety is that stress is the precursor to anxiety, and anxiety is usually a precursor to depression. this means we need to be a whole lot more ralistic about stress, which for many, is a a constant bed fellow. I have a personal testimony to how stress can impact negatively on lives, and after many years of migraines, depression, and imune system collapse, I am finally ‘happy’ and healthy. I believe that we need to be a lot more mindful of stressors in our life, and then we need guidance, or tools to address those stressors, in fact we need to CHOOSE whether or not we are going to acknowledge those stressors – this is not always a comfortable process.There is not a quick fix, and we need to make a CHOICE about how we live with day to day stress. If we address our problems when the are at the stress/chronic stress level we stand a good chance of averting the ‘anxiety’ syndrome. I am passionate about healing people, and passionate about using laughter – an inbuilt, free, and scientifically acknowledged tool in dealing with this problem. ‘ Laughter is to the soul, what soap is to the body’ – Yiddish proverb

    • Kirsten says:

      Thanks so much for your valuable comment Glenys. I’ve always noticed how much better I feel when I have been with a group of friends and we have been laughing a lot. Sitting around our dining room table with my family is another time where there is a lot of laughter and we all feel good. Thanks so much for sharing this.

      Choosing how we live with our day-to-day stress is a powerful change of perspective – many people feel they have no choice in the matter – and I agree with you – we do have a choice and we must exercise that choice.

  4. nolutando Ntlombe says:

    It is quite difficult to know the difference between the 2 hence we mostly use both words carelessly.

    Jogging helps me a lot when I have either of the two or getting up and go. I have tried lying down but then the feeling gets worse, my bones go softer and it seems as if I cannot move any part of the body.I think I suffer mostly on stress than anxiety. I always have this pain on the back of my neck, shoulders and my back by that time it is even hard to breath. This is triggerd mostly by thoughts of whatever that I am unable to change.

    • Kirsten says:

      Hey Nolutando, nice to hear from you. Exercise i usually a good way of getting rid of tension. You are absolutely right – mot of our tress and anxiety is caused by our thought…

  5. Sylvia Lampe says:

    I think that you can do something about anxiety. If, for example, I am anxious, because my daughter is out at night driving, then I can do various things to get rid of the anxiety, like prayer and handing over to God, telling myself, if something happens, I have to go through it twice by being anxious, and if nothing happens, I have been anxious for nothing, my anxiety won’t change the outcome … etc. Accompanied with some deep breathing, I can get myself to relax and let go of the anxious feelings.

    • Kirsten says:

      Hi Sylvia, thank for your comment. I agree that prayer is a great help. and breathing slowly and deeply (which i the opposite to fast, shallow breathing that occurs when we are stressed or anxious) calms you down. I usually do deep breathing before I get up to do a speech.

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