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.”
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….