Your heart begins to beat faster as you approach that stressful situation. Maybe your palms get sweaty as you confront a difficult event or task. This is anxiety – our bodies response to stress.
Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety work on the same “fight, flight, or freeze” response in the body which means they have similar physical sensations. Although stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably there are some key differences.
Stress is often focused on external pressures that we are struggling to cope with. Often, we know what we are stressed about and often the symptoms connected to stress disappear when the situation is over.
Anxiety on the other hand is not as easy to figure out. It is often internal and focuses on fears and worries about things that could threaten us. Anxiety often continues even when there are no current stressors. Anxiety can spiral and lead to anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Stress and anxiety are both parts of being human, but they can become a problem if they last for too long and have a negative impact on one’s daily life and well-being. It is important to know how to manage and cope with stress and anxiety, so it does not take away one’s health and well-being.
How to Cope with Anxiety
The way we breathe impacts how we feel and what we think. When we are anxious or stressed out our breath gets shallow, short and is often in one’s chest. This type of breathing is linked to the sympathetic or “fight or flight” system in the body. We want to change this and get into the parasympathetic nervous system, “rest and digest “which will help you calm down and be more focused. To link into the parasympathetic, you need to slow your breathing down and get the air into the bottom of your belly and extend your exhale longer than your inhale. There are several apps, YouTube videos and articles that can help you learn to breathe in a way that reduces your anxiety and stress.
When we are caught in our anxiety it can be helpful to get curious about what is bothering you. It can be helpful to write everything out on a piece of paper and then throw it out. Often our anxiety is trying to warn us but we end up just going in circles in our brain as we ruminate possible problems. Writing it out can help stop the rumination cycle, you are giving your thoughts some space then letting them go.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness is being present without judgement. Too often we are in the past or jumping to the future we miss out on life as it unfolds in front of us. The practice of mindfulness and meditation teaches one how to live in the here and now by slowing down one’s thoughts, letting go of negativity and calming the mind and body. Mindfulness and meditation is practice and has to be implemented into one’s life consciously.
Focusing on something less anxiety-provoking can be helpful. Doing something that brings you a sense of calm or enjoyment can help get you out of an anxiety spiral. Worrying and stressing about things never solves the problem but robs you of the present moment. Distracting yourself with:
- Chores around the house
- Creative activities such as painting, drawing, writing
- Listen to music
- Practice gratitude
- Read a book or watch a movie
- Call a friend
If you feel like you are being consumed by your stress and anxiety and trying to implement these tools feel too overwhelming it may be important to seek help. Anxiety can be effectively treated with a counsellor or coach. Anxiety does not have to be a life sentence reach out for support if you feel stuck.