Feelings of stress and anxiety are a part of life. Some levels of stress can actually be good for us, as the right kind of stress encourages us toward change and growth. However, when stress and anxiety exist for an extended period of time, they can become a burden or even a health risk. This guidebook will help you recognize and understand feelings of stress and anxiety and learn how to manage them so that they don’t become overwhelming.
Meet the Expert
Melissa Cohen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Coach in New York City. She has been in practice for more than two decades.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects. The right kind of stress can sharpen the mind and reflexes. It might be able to help the body perform better, or help you escape a dangerous situation.
Stress produces a physiological reaction in your body. Hormones are released, which results in physical manifestations of stress. These can include slowed digestion, shaking, tunnel vision, accelerated breathing and heart rate, dilation of pupils and flushed skin. This process is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. That is just what it sounds like: Our bodies are poised to either run away from the stressor or stick around and fight against it.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are three types of stress: acute, episodic acute and chronic.
Acute stress is the most common form and is the result of recent or anticipated stressors. Acute stress can be both positive and negative. For example, the excitement before a fun event is a type of positive acute stress. Getting into a car accident is negative acute stress. As long as the acute stress doesn’t last for extended periods or occur too frequently, there is nothing wrong with suffering from acute stress. It happens to all of us, and it passes with time.
Episodic acute stress is acute stress that occurs frequently. This is the kind of stress that continuously pops up, sometimes in a pattern. It is accompanied by worry and angst about things that are happening to you or around you. You might be especially prone to this is you have a “type A” personality, as you can have a sense of urgency and a need to get things done that might actually become overwhelming. Episodic acute stress is a recurring type of stress, happening over and over.
Chronic acute stress
Chronic acute stress can be thought of as never-ending stress that relentlessly wears away at you. If you don’t see an end in sight, if you are facing something that has no way out, then you are likely to begin suffering from chronic stress. This type of stress eventually begins to affect your health, and can lead to heart problems, strokes, or even cancer, among other issues. Chronic stress definitely requires reaching out for help.
How do you know you’re stressed?
The following quiz will help you determine if you’re stressed and if so, how much stress you’re facing.
Here’s how to grade your quiz:
Almost never applies to me 0 points
Applies to me some of the time or to a small extent 1 points
Applies to me a substantial amount of time, but not the majority of the time 2 points
Applies to me most of the time, almost all of the time 3 points
I find it difficult to take the first step to get things done.
I have tremors, twitches or shakiness in parts of my body.
I worry about situations where I could make a fool of myself.
I feel depressed or melancholy.
I no longer enjoy the things I used to enjoy.
I tend to overreact to situations, whether personal or professional.
I am easily agitated or annoyed.
I have trouble sleeping or falling to sleep.
I engage in activities or work that make me nervous or anxious
I get upset by unimportant or small things.
Symptoms and Signs
There are four primary types of symptoms of stress: physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Depending on the individual and the cause of the stress, the number of symptoms from each category can vary. The below chart will give an overview of types of symptoms that may be present in someone suffering from stress.
Irregular bowel movements
Involuntary twitching or shaking
Irregular or missed periods
Getting sick more often than normal
Chest pain with or without tachycardia
Heartburn or indigestion
Unusual changes in weight
Less than normal patience
Feelings of sadness and/or depression
Feelings of being overwhelmed
Reduced or eliminated desire for activities once enjoyed or regularly done
Sense of isolation
Trouble coping with life’s issues
More frequent or extreme pessimistic attitude
Trouble with remembering things, such as homework assignments or deadlines
Anxious thoughts or feelings
Reduced or impaired judgment
Impaired speech (mumbling or stuttering)
Repetitive or unwanted thoughts
Change in eating habits
Change in sleeping habits
New or increased use of drugs, tobacco or drugs
Abnormal failure or delay to complete everyday responsibilities
Significant change in school or work performance
Unusual desire for social isolation
Trouble getting along with peers, such as coworkers, classmates or teachers
College Stress by the Numbers
of college students say they feel stressed “most of the time.” [Source: AP.]
of college students had thoughts of suicide[Source: AP.]
of college students report feeling depressed at least at one point within the last 90 days [Source: ADAA.]
of college students have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mental health condition. [Source: ADAA.]
of college students say they sometimes or often feel stressed[Source: ADAA.]
About half of surveyed college students felt overwhelmed with anxiety at least once within the last 12 months .[Source: APA.]
Causes of College Stress
Living Away From Home
For many students, college is the first time they have lived away from home or been away from their family for any significant period of time. Besides that, it’s a very unfamiliar environment. Everything is different – the food, the people and the living accommodations. Even though most students eventually get used to these new things without a problem, the first few weeks of college can create a stressful environment. This is true even if you are truly excited about the changes. Remember that even positive changes can induce stress.
There is also a change in the support environment. When there is a big test, bad day or confusing situation, family members and old friends are not readily available for support and if they are, it’s through a telephone or computer rather than in person. This can be tough to adjust to, especially during those first few months.
Academic Demands and Test Anxiety
This may be the most common long-term cause of stress for college students. After all, that’s why students go to college – to learn. When you don’t get the results you think you should get, or you feel pressured to get certain academic results, this can cause a lot of stress. For some students, college is the first time they are academically challenged. If high school was a breeze for you, college may be the first time you get a low grade on a test. Consequently, test anxiety may be experienced for the first time or with increased intensity.
Test anxiety is anxiety that usually comes before or during the taking of tests. The symptoms can be physical and mental and usually inhibit your ability to perform as well as you otherwise could. Ways to manage or reduce the anxiety include:
Study as much as you can. One of the causes of test anxiety is the fear that you didn’t study enough. By studying as much as you can, you can reduce this fear.
Try to mimic test taking conditions. It might be taking practice tests, studying in the same classroom or building where you will be taking the test or doing practice problems under timed conditions. These steps can help familiarize you to otherwise unfamiliar test taking conditions.
Learn to study more effectively. Maybe it’s getting a tutor to help explain concepts, someone to double check your work or using something as simple as flashcards to study, but finding someone to help you study more effectively can make all the difference.
Find ways to calm down. What cools you down? Squeezing a stress ball? Taking deep breaths? Whatever relaxation technique you choose can help reduce the symptoms of text anxiety.
Watch your diet. Eat well and eat properly. For example, too much caffeine can exacerbate the physical symptoms of test anxiety.
Get enough sleep. Research is clear that not getting enough sleep can impair one’s memory and reasoning abilities. The more clear-headed you are, the less anxious you will feel.
Exercise regularly. Exercise can release tension, and the less tension you feel as you go into the test, the better off you might be.
Make sure you have plenty of time. You’re worried enough about the test. No need to add more worry about being late and having less time to take the test as a result of unexpected traffic or a test location change.
Resources to help reduce text anxiety can be your school’s academic services office, your family, classmates and the following websites:
In addition to being on your own physically and maybe even emotionally, you may also be on your own financially. Everything from rent and food to gas and entertainment is now your financial responsibility. You might find that you need to take on a part-time job when you aren’t in class. Even if you have a scholarship or loan, or have a “full ride” that helps you pay for it all, there are still the required phone calls, questions, paperwork and deadlines that have to be met in order to ensure the funds keep coming.
After college is over, then what? That’s a huge question: Figuring out the answer is like laying out blueprints for the rest of your life. There are many stressors that can affect your plans, such as not having a job upon graduation, being forced to settle for a job you don’t really want, or struggling to get into graduate schools. On the other hand, you might land a great job, but the prospect of paying back student loans is now starting to hang over your head. Ultimately, the fear of the unknown can really make a huge difference in how much stress you feel about your post-graduate life.
5 School Stress Busting Tips
No matter where you are in the school journey, these tips can help you cope with and manage the stress that comes along with it.
Get plenty of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep impairs academic performance and makes it harder to get through the day.
Research has shown that positive thinking may improve physical well-being, produce lower feelings of depression and produce lower levels of distress.
Have a stress “outlet.”
This could be a social activity like going out or participating in intramural sports, finding a hobby or joining a social club.
Engage in relaxation techniques.
This can include things like slowly counting to ten, meditation, thinking positive thoughts, visualization or playing with a stress ball.
Talk to someone.
Sometimes just talking about what’s stressful or having someone listen to your problems can drastically reduce stress.
Get Help for Student Stress
There are several resources available on campus to help you deal with students stress. The chart below can help point you in the right direction to find help on your school’s campus.
Available School Resources
Your academic or student advisor can provide advice or guidance. The on-campus academic services office should be able to arrange a tutor or other extra academic help.
The student health center, counseling services center, or campus medical facility will have free and anonymous therapy or counseling services available.
Eating and Weight Management
The student health services and recreation/fitness center might have fitness experts or counselors to help you.
The academic services office or student services office can point you in the right direction to more effectively manage your time.
The student health center can provide physical checkups and STD/STI screenings, as well as counseling for issues sexually active students may encounter.
In addition to the student health center, your school may have a counseling and psychiatric services center which can provide mental health services.
Student health services are always available to answer any health questions you might have.
The financial aid office and student services center will have information and advice about managing money.
Your resident advisor and student housing department will have procedures in place to deal with problems with roommates or living facilities.
Many schools have a massage and/or physical therapy team which can provide services to help students unwind.
Homesickness, Family Issues and Bereavement
Counseling will be available in at least one, if not all, of the following organizations: student health services, counseling and psychiatric services center or student services center.
Learn what expert Melissa Cohen, LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has to say about stress and anxiety.
Everyone deals with some level of stress from time to time. What signs make it clear that it’s time to get help?
Feeling stress and anxiety is normal but they can manifest in different ways for each individual. For some people, it’s time to seek help when your feelings begin to have a negative impact on everyday life and your ability to carry out daily routines or have normal relationships. For others, it is when these thoughts and feelings begin to prevent them from being able to focus and enjoy the important things in life, when their stress and anxiety are the only thing they can focus on, or when their thoughts and feelings begin to interfere with work or school. It can be any one or combination that sparks the need to get help.
How can someone spot the differences between stress and anxiety? What are those differences?
Stress and anxiety can share some of the same primary physical symptoms, such as, pounding hearts, rapid breathing, dilated pupils and muscle tension. The symptoms vary but can overlap and some people are more susceptible to them than others. Some people stress when making ordinary daily decisions, such as, where to go, what to eat and what to buy and other people thrive and can be highly productive when driven by these forces of pressure.
The words are mostly used interchangeably but they are different experiences and you can have one without the other. Stressful feelings include frustration and nervousness and anxious feelings include fear, unease and worry. The key difference is that stress is a reaction to something that is happening now and is triggered by a specific situation. Anxiety is concern about something that may or may not happen in the future. Anxiety is also the stress that continues after the stressor is gone.
What can someone expect when they reach out for help from a counselor, psychiatrist, social worker or other professional?
Reaching out to someone is not a bad thing. It is probably the healthiest and most positive thing you can do. Pretending that everything is ok is not the answer. It even helps to be proactive. Something does not have to be wrong with you for you to seek help. Therapy can also be for the person who just want to achieve a goal and needs some guidance. You can count on someone to listen and to help you focus on the cause, the feelings associated with the cause and ways to manage and work through it, not against it.
Once you locate a therapist, the hardest part is to make the initial phone contact. Once you make the first appointment then you need to show up. Be prepared to tell your story. Most therapists use this time to get to know you and your concerns. Therapists are not there to judge, they are there to listen. Speak about the current issue but don’t forget to tell them what makes you, you. There is some room to talk about the past but you do not need to go into specific details, there will be time for that. Focus on what is most important to you, your current feelings and how long you have had them. If you have questions for the therapist about your goals and plans, don’t be afraid to ask them. Share with the therapist what you want to get out of therapy, how you would like things to be different, what you have done to feel better and if you have talked to anyone else. If you are on medication or have any documents that you feel will be helpful, share them.
The therapist will take notes but it is just for their records and they will have to give you a diagnosis, mostly for insurance purposes. However, if they feel it is necessary, they may give you a referral to a psychiatrist for medication. They will also schedule you next appointment. It is important that you find a therapist that you feel comfortable with because you need to be honest with them and yourself. Give it a chance even if you don’t click right away. If you have concerns, discuss them.
After your first session, it is common to have many feelings that range from relieved to horrified, peaceful to more anxious, discouraged to hopeful or any combination of these and many more. Make sure that you feel there is a plan in place and that you feel listened to and comfortable. Take an active role in your treatment and don’t put off taking the first step. Therapy is a team effort and you need to come prepared, open and honest. Also, have realistic expectations. Therapy is not a quick fix but a process. It is a tool that can be used to resolve problems.
Career and Work Stress
When pursuing a career or entering the workforce, you can expect to deal with all sorts of stress – and it comes from all sides. You might face stress from your boss, your coworkers, the corporation or business itself, and much more. Here’s a rundown of the stress that most people face in their career or work situation.
Difficult people. Sometimes you wind up with the dream job; however, most people have at least one coworker or boss who makes them cringe the moment a meeting is scheduled. Working with strong personalities and difficult people can make life tough on a day-to-day basis. Learning to deal with people like this can be tricky, and unfortunately, it might take a great deal of time and energy.
Unreasonable demands. Sometimes difficult people can lead to very difficult work environments. We have all heard the horror stories of too much work being thrown at one person – “drowning in paperwork” can spell the death throes of what might have once been a good job. Dealing with demands that press your time and abilities to the breaking point is one reason why some people become so stressed out that they actually choose to walk away from a formerly good job.
Job loss. No matter how tough a job is, no matter how much you don’t get along with those around you, most people will agree that having a job is much better than not having one. When you suffer a job loss, it can send you into a tailspin of stress and anxiety. What will you do now? How long will it take to find another job? Depending upon how the previous job ended, you might be even more worried – for instance, what if your old boss won’t be giving you a good recommendation?
Financial stress. When there is a job loss, a promotion falls through, a big account goes under, or you otherwise face issues that put a strain on finances, stress is almost inevitable. Dealing with financial stress as a result of the workplace is common, even if you have plenty of money in the bank; for instance, going into the meeting that determines your raise or bonus for the year can be nerve-wracking, even if you know you have done a good job. In addition, constantly working to make more money and get a higher pay grade can make you feel like a hamster in a wheel – you are working like crazy but never really getting anywhere.
Stressful jobs by nature. Sometimes you embark on a job that turns out to be incredibly stressful, simply due to the nature of what you do. For instance, social workers might face situations with small children that are very distressing, nurses might deal with grief-stricken families, and police officers might face danger on a regular basis. In situations like this, finding a good balance that alleviates the stress is an absolute must.
5 Work Stress Busting Tips
Every job is going to be stressful at some point. Whether you are working on a tight deadline or facing a make-or-break situation, here are a few ways that you can alleviate stress, at least to some extent.
Make the most of workday breaks.
Take some time to cool down and take a deep breath. A slow walk and deep breathing during the middle of the day can help center you.
Have a place to vent.
You might not want to discuss your work troubles work coworkers, as gossip can run rampant. But have someone you can talk to outside of work who will understand your situation.
Never let yourself become angry and lash out at work – that will be detrimental to your work experience and lead to more stress. Find some way to blow off steam.
There are certain job standards you must live up to, but don’t be pushed to go too far above what is reasonable for your pay grade. Never expect perfection!
Tweak your job description.
If you find that you are consistently doing work that is not in your job description, speak to your employer about either delegating that work to someone else or compensating you fairly for it.
Get Help for Career Stress
Most companies have an employee helpline meant for problems like this. The call is usually entirely confidential, and you might even be able to schedule phone sessions with a counselor.
Financial or credit counselor
If you are worried about finances, talking to someone about money matters can help. A financial counselor might also be able to advise you on how to make the most of your salary.
Your human resources department is there to help you with situations that seem insurmountable. They can guide you to the proper resources and possibly help you with internal issues.
Does your workplace offer a fitness center? Take advantage of it during your lunch breaks or right before or after work to burn off some steam.
When there are serious indiscretions, illegal activity and the like happening in the workplace, becoming a whistleblower might be your best bet to a better work environment.
If you are in a stressful work environment, how are your coworkers dealing with it? They might be able to provide you with tips on how they stay calm and cool.
When you are facing a tough health condition or concern, stress tends to skyrocket. That’s because in addition to the illness itself, there are many other issues to worry about while you are going through a trying time. Here’s a brief rundown of the stress you might expect to feel when you get bad news from the doctor.
Pain, fear, and uncertainty. What is going to happen to you? What will the outcome be? What kind of procedures will you have to endure? How long will this last? Depending upon the condition you are dealing with, the answers to these questions can be frightening. The stress you feel during a medical crisis can be compounded by getting negative or troubling answers to your concerns.
The money issues. Serious health conditions or sudden illness come along with many problems, and at the heart of that might be finances. You might face a loss of income while you are in the hospital or recuperating. If the situation is bad enough, you might have to give up your job. In the meantime, you are paying for your treatments, and dealing with the insurance company. Many individuals might have great insurance, but that doesn’t negate the costs of copays, deductibles, and out of pocket limits – all of which can make a huge dent in your savings.
Worrying about your loved ones. They are worried about you, certainly. But you don’t want to be a burden, and so you are worried about making life as easy for them as possible while you go through this trying time. By attempting to take care of them, rather than letting them take care of you, the stress you feel is likely going to increase dramatically.
Caregiving. Speaking of loved ones, what if you are the caregiver for someone who is seriously ill? You have a great deal of stress on your plate, too. You want to keep them comfortable, say all the right things, and do everything in the right way, but those responsibilities can be overwhelming. Reaching out for help might make you feel as though you are burdening others; that can prompt you to dig deep for more patience and strength, and do it all yourself. You might not even recognize that you need help, too.
5 Health Conditions/Issues Stress Busting Tips
When stress becomes overwhelming, it’s time to calm down. These tips can help you deal with health conditions or medical issues without blowing your top.
Get all the information you can.
Knowledge is power, and it can help you cope. The more you know about your condition and treatments, the more in-control you will feel.
When you are faced with a debilitating medical condition, you cannot handle it alone. Recognize that you need help, and don’t hesitate to reach out for it.
Have a good cry.
Trying to stay strong in the face of a serious medical condition might help at first, but over time the lack of “falling apart” can take a toll. You deserve the time to grieve the situation you are in; allow yourself to cry, scream, rant, and otherwise take out the stress before it makes you even sicker.
If your medical condition will be a temporary one, consider it a wake-up call, and start planning the rest of your life accordingly. If you are facing a terminal illness, make plans for the time you have left.
Find a spiritual advisor.
Even if you are not a religious or spiritual person, finding someone who can talk to you about “what comes after” might be a helpful step to put your illness in perspective.
Get help for health-related stress
Every hospital or healthcare facility has a social worker on staff, or is able to reach out to one within a short period of time. The social worker can help you find resources such as support groups or financial assistance.
Those who are taking care of a loved one can turn to respite care, a service often provided by members of the local community. This allows caregivers to take time away from the responsibility and reduce their stress level.
Contacting the billing and financial department can result in payment plans, the potential for lowered payments and other financial assistance.
Talking to those who are going through the same issues can help alleviate stress. Support groups are available for almost everything, and not just for patients – they are good for children, caregivers, parents and more.
Physicians and nurses
Those who work in the health care field can direct you to community resources that can help with everything from getting the right medical equipment to introducing you to new physicians.
Each person has different types of stressors. What bothers one person might not bother another. What seems overwhelming to one might be perfectly manageable to another. But when it comes to your particular kind of stress, you know when you feel it – and you know when it’s becoming serious.
These stress reduction techniques can help anyone, no matter the situation. Whether you are in a hospital bed awaiting surgery, dealing with a boss who seems to be out to get you, or lonely at college while you await that next test that has you so anxious you can barely study, these tips can ease the worry you are dealing with and help you face the next hurdle with a more centered, calm mind.
Relaxation Techniques and Tools
Our expert Melissa Cohen, LCSW, has a few tips that can help ease stress. These are her best options for anyone facing a stressful time, including college students, parents, employees, and more.
Acknowledge your feelings and keep a journal – not a formal one but one where you can keep notes and thoughts.
Prioritize and tackle the easiest things first. This makes the list shorter.
Break it down into pieces. Set realistic and manageable goals.
Take a break and focus on something else for a while.
Do something that you enjoy – draw, write a letter, cook, or call a friend
Workout – go for a run, a walk, or take an exercise class
Meditate – just 3-5 minutes can help change your perspective
Think positive, reframe the negative.
Visualize a place where you feel calm.
Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid stress? Fortunately, there are some ways you can make that happen. Though there is no way to completely avoid stress, there are some ways to get a better handle on the things that cause it, how you respond to it, and what it does to you. These techniques can help you avoid stress.
Know your limitations
Jumping into something you can’t handle can often leave you with stress and worry. When embarking on something new, know what your limitations are, and never bite off more than you can chew.
Have a good support system
When life gets tough, having someone to turn to can help. Your support system should include family, friends, and professionals if necessary.
Understand your triggers
What stresses you out? Learning to avoid things that make you anxious, nervous or worried can be enough to help you live a life filled with less stress.
Learn relaxation techniques
When stress comes calling, being able to relax can help you cope with it. Take the time to learn the techniques that make most sense to you.
Manage your time
Plan out your time wisely. This includes any situation, including school, career, or everyday life. Make sure to plan in plenty of downtime, too.
Learn to say no
When you say yes to everything, you eventually become overwhelmed. Make “no” a strong part your vocabulary, and only say yes to things that will be enjoyable for you.
Getting active releases hormones that can help you relax, stay calm and cope with life’s stressors. Even a small amount of exercise each day can work wonders.
Be more assertive
Learn to stand up for yourself and those around you. Never allow yourself to be bullied, whether it’s by fellow students, coworkers, a boss or anyone else.
There are very few absolutely certain things in life. But when it comes to stress, there are a few things that are simply destined to cause it. These stressors are serious for anyone who deals with them, and they can lead down a road that brings the worst stress you can imagine. If you are dealing with any of these issues, getting help right away – right now – is the only appropriate response.
Though turning to drugs and alcohol might seem to relieve stress in the short term, it is a recipe for disaster. The negative problems that quickly result will turn your future into a nightmare.
Any sort of addiction can quickly spiral into something you can’t handle. Avoid anything that might seem to be an addictive trigger for you, including substances, gambling, and the like.
Abuse of any kind
If you are being abused by anyone, in any way, get help right now before it gets worse. Emotional, verbal, physical, sexual abuse – as well as other types – can send your stress levels off the charts.
When you are feeling isolated for whatever reason, stress builds up to the breaking point. If you are suffering alone, without a support group or support system to help you, it’s time to reach out. It might be tough, but there are people just like you who can benefit from the discussions you could have.
Good Stress/Bad Stress
Remember that not all stress is bad for you. Sometimes it’s a very good thing. Stress can push you to succeed in areas that you believed were off-limits to you. It can propel you to do things that turn out to be great adventures. It can spur you to study harder, work longer hours, focus more on the things that matter, and take your good health into your own hands.
Stress can also have a very clear-cut purpose if you are ever in a dangerous situation. The “fight or flight” response is a very important biological urge that is designed to lead us out of harm’s way. For instance, the urge to run when someone begins chasing you, or the instinctual need to fight back when you are confronted with a dangerous situation are both a result of this stress response. In that way, stress is a good thing, because it keeps you safe.
Healthy stress might make you feel anxious or worried for a time. Imagine the stress you feel when taking that big test, the one that your final grade is riding on. The stress might be tough, but it spurs you to study more, and that can drive you to a higher grade. Or imagine the worry you feel when you are struggling with a relationship issue. The worry doesn’t feel good, but it leads you to talk things through more often, and that can lead to a better place in the relationship than what you experienced before the stress took hold.
So before you discount stress as being a terrible thing, think of times when it spurred you on to greater things. It might help you put stress in perspective the next time you feel overwhelmed by it.
Worry. Apprehension. Fearing the worst. Anxiety is all of these things and more. When you are constantly feeling on edge and worried about something, you are probably suffering from anxiety. Here’s the rundown of what it really is:
What is it?
Anxiety is a general term that can cover several different types of disorders. All of them have nervousness, worry, fear, and apprehension in common. Sometimes the feelings can be overwhelming enough to manifest physical symptoms.
Why does it happen?
Anxiety is considered a mental illness. It happens when someone is faced with a situation that overwhelms them. Those who have anxiety disorders might even have difficulty living a normal life.
Is it hereditary?
Some studies say that certain individuals are predisposed to anxiety disorders due to their genetic code; however, other studies say there is no hereditary link at all.
What are the physical symptoms?
Those with anxiety might suffer physical manifestations of their worry, including a rapid heartbeat, sweating, problems with sleep, an inability to concentrate, shortness of breath, fidgeting, fatigue, and the like.
Anxiety is not stress, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Stress is something that is usually transient and can be remedied; anxiety might be a constant, unrelenting sensation that requires intervention from a professional in order to solve.
How is anxiety related to stress?
When it comes to stress, we know exactly where it is coming from: That deadline, the decline of a relationship, the argument with the boss at work. Anxiety is much harder to pinpoint, and can be a constellation of problems that seem to build up at the same time. Then the physical problems begin to set in. According to Melissa Cohen, LCSW, anxiety takes on a life of its own. “We are less aware of what we are anxious about and the reaction we have becomes the actual problem,” she said. “We get anxious when we keep thinking about the same thing over and over. We develop a sense of uneasiness and since we don’t want to forget, we fixate. Mild anxiety can actually be a positive experience for some but when it is prolonged and happens in the absence of a stressful event or begins to interfere with normal life, it needs to be addressed.”
A Few Notes on Anxiety Disorders
There are several anxiety disorders recognized by mental health professionals. The most common of these include:
The sudden escalation of physical symptoms can be distressing, to say the least. It might include feelings of terror, including the certainty that death is imminent. Panic disorder might include a feeling of suffocation, chest pain, sweating, or fear that is so intense it makes you feel as though you are going “crazy.”
Social anxiety disorder
This is an intense fear of social situations, or any situation in which you could be judged by others. It might include something as intense as being unable to go out on a date with someone new, or something as simple as being afraid to answer the phone.
Generalized anxiety disorder
This disorder includes a feeling of perpetual dread, worry, and fear that doesn’t seem to have any true basis. You might be afraid or worried about almost anything in life, whether it is something that should cause stress or not.
Fear of enclosed spaces, heights, flying, stairs, or even certain foods can be considered a phobia, especially if the problem interferes with your everyday life – for example, if you are so afraid of stairs that you refuse to climb them, your everyday life is affected every time you go to a public place.
When it comes to specific anxiety disorders, it’s time to talk to your doctor about how to treat the problem. These disorders rarely go away on their own, so it is always necessary to seek out medical help and professional advice.
Tools for Anxiety Management
When you are suffering from anxiety, professional help is always recommended. But what you can you do in between visits with your therapist or counselor? What can you do if the anxiety becomes overwhelming? There are ways that you can bring the anxiety back under control. These tips and tools might help.
Keep yourself busy.
One of the best ways to ease anxiety is to not think about it. How do you do that? By staying as busy as you can. The more you are moving and doing things, the less likely you will have time to dwell on what is bothering you.
Turn to natural remedies.
Natural remedies, such as lavender aromatherapy or chamomile tea, have been proven to help relieve stress and anxiety. These natural remedies should always be used properly – ask your doctor if they will be okay to take along with any medications you might be on.
Working out anxiety with a lot of sweat works for some. Hit the gym and hit it hard – the more you work out, the more good hormones are released. You might also sleep better, have better digestion, and feel better overall.
Talk it out.
When you can’t take one more minute of what is going on inside your head, it’s time to talk to someone else. Discuss what is bothering you. If you don’t want to talk to someone at that moment, write it all down on a piece of paper.
Walk away from things that bother you.
Does watching the news make you anxious? Turn off the television. Does talking to a particular person make you feel nervous? Avoid them. Does your chest get tight when you think about that big test? Do what it takes to move your mind to something else.
In addition, these anxiety resources might be able to help you cope:
Being mindful of the things that are happening and the world around you can help you cope with many things in life, including stress and anxiety. Though there are many definitions for mindfulness, the general idea is the same: It is a mental state that is focused on the moment, staying calm, and accepting and acknowledging how you feel, the sensations around you, the thoughts that come into your head, and the other things in your internal and external environment.
By “being in the moment” and embracing it, you can reduce or relieve stress and anxiety. In fact, mindfulness can work so well for some that it becomes a way of life, one that leads to a much better day-to-day existence.
What is it in relation to anxiety and stress?
Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and in some cases, actually prevent it from happening in the first place. Not only does mindfulness pull you out of your own head and help you see the bigger picture, it can reduce physical stressors that might make your mental state feel even worse. By focusing on the present, you are not dwelling on the mistakes of the past, nor are you overwhelmed by thoughts of the future. You are focused on the here and now, and that can allow your subconscious to work on the things that are bothering you.
How can you approach mindfulness?
Starting a routine of mindfulness can be tough, especially when you are entrenched in a fast-paced world. But it is definitely worth a shot.
Start by setting aside some time to focus on the here and now. This means choosing a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed, and where distractions are at a minimum. Focus on every aspect of your body, one at a time, starting with your breathing. Move up from your toes, focusing in the sensations you feel in every part of yourself, until you reach your head. What thoughts are there? What are you feeling at the moment? Just acknowledge those things, breathe in deep, but do nothing about them. The goal is to live in the moment, not look for solutions.
You can indulge in this during other times as well. For instance, while eating a meal, focus strongly on the flavors and textures as they move over your tongue. Focus on your breathing, the smells of the food, the motion of swallowing it. Try to be as deeply in that moment as you can be, and fill up your senses with what you find there.
Mindfulness Tips and Techniques
Ready to try it? These tips can help you get on track.
Let your thoughts go where they may, but don’t pay much attention to them. The goal is to listen to the quiet inside you.
Listen to your body.
What is it saying? Focus on the sensations you are feeling, including the stressful ones. Then take a deep breath and envision letting them go into the world, outside of you.
Let thoughts go.
Do the same thing with your thoughts. Acknowledge what comes into your mind (“yes, I am scared”), and then let it float away while you move on to something else.
Run through the sensory gamut.
Focus on your body again, and what it feels at every point. Are your feet warm? Is your hand tingling? Focus strongly on the sensation, acknowledge it, and then go to another body part. Get in touch with you.
Clench and release.
Still feel tense? Starting at your toes, clench a body part one at a time. Hold the clench for a few seconds. Then slowly release while exhaling. Go up your body, working every muscle group, until you are at the top of your head. Then do it again if you need more relaxation.
Mindfulness can be tough to learn. If you don’t seem to “get it” the first time, keep trying. Mindfulness is different for everyone, and it will take some time for you to figure out what it means for you.