Only 35 years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnosis. Today it’s the most common form of mental illness. But ours is hardly the first troubled era humans have endured. Our predecessors bore much saltier times such as Black Death; World Wars I and II; The Great Depression; Slavery; and that time all the dinosaurs went missing.
Prolific news and social media can have us drowning in gloom. The only winners in this unhealthy arrangement are the advertisers who regularly interrupt 24-hour news streams of wheelchair thieves and otter-punchers to scare us into buying underground survival bunkers and anxiety pills.
Stress and anxiety are in the mind of the beholder.
Stress and anxiety share many of the same physical symptoms. Stress is a state of mental or emotional tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. If you are stressed you feel anything from agitation or moodiness to a queasy stomach and chest pain. Anxiety is what one feels in reaction to the stress, and is worry that continues after the stressor is gone.
Anxiety can include feelings of nervousness, panic, insomnia, or doom about a pending event, life uncertainties, or even about nothing at all. Anxiety can further take the form of PTSD, OCD, panic disorders, phobias, or generalized anxiety disorder. It can make you feel cracked, neurotic, and cerebrally paralyzed.
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point, and a little is beneficial. It kept your ancestors alive when a saber toothed tiger crept into their cave while they made s’mores. It keeps you sharp and motivated to respond to threats, deadlines, and unwelcomed Facebook tags. A problem exists, however, when there is too much stress; it becomes chronic, or leads to depression.
Simple ways to distinguish between stress and anxiety:
- Unlike anxiety, stress is a response to daily pressures, while anxiety is more akin to fear and helplessness
- Anxiety is classified as an actual mental disorder, stress is not
- Stress is a response to a specific stressor, while anxiety often has no discernible cause
- Stress typically goes away with the stressor, while anxiety tends to last longer and be more difficult to treat.
- A diagnosis of anxiety requires persistence of symptoms for six months or more
With anxiety often comes depression, as the disorders are interlinked. Depression includes feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, and thoughts of death or suicide. Chronic stressful life situations can increase the risk of developing depression.
A prescription for quelling your angst:
When it comes to stress, anxiety, or depression, how you respond is vital. Consider using the following proven tactics:
- Stay grounded in the present. Depression is rooted in the past, and anxiety in future thinking.
- If anxiety spikes, implement 4x4x4 breathing (breathe in for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and do this 4 times).
- Channel nervous energy into something creative.
- Continually monitor your thoughts and dispute any that are negative.
- Cite three things for which you are grateful each day, no matter how small.
- Get to bed early and at the same time each night. And turn off the electronics to turn off your brain.
- Have a productivity goal (something from your “To-Do” list) and a pleasure goal (something from your “Fun-To-Do” list) each day.
- Eat well and exercise. Limit caffeine, eat your veggies, and stay active.
- Add yoga, prayer, or meditation daily.
- Practice Opposite Action. In other words, regularly counter what anxiety or depression is prompting you to do.
Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure everything out. You don’t.