Stress Vs Anxiety: How to Know the Difference & Find Relief

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Do you ever feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the demands of your life? Are sleepless nights, constant worrying, and an inability to focus becoming more common for you lately?

If so, you’re likely anxious or stressed out — and it’s time to take a step back and assess the situation. While excessive anxiety or stress can feel overwhelming and seem like an impossible mountain to climb, there are steps we can all take both mentally and physically to get on top of our mental health and make room for natural growth.

In this post, we’ll explore how to recognize when you’re anxious or stressed,and what effective strategies can help you alleviate your stress or anxiety from the root. Read on!

What is stress?

It refers to the body’s reaction to any change that requires a physical, emotional, or psychological adjustment or response. You can experience it in many ways and result from positive and negative events.

Everyone experiences it daily, and how we respond to it greatly affects our overall health. It is important to recognize when you are feeling stressed and take steps to manage your life effectively.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease or worry that can range from mild to intense. It is typically characterized by restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and muscle tension.

Anxiety occurs when you feel threatened or are facing a stressful situation and your body responds with physical and mental symptoms.

Anxiety can also be caused by long-term stress or chronic medical conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can lead to feelings of isolation or helplessness.

When left unaddressed, chronic anxiety can develop into various anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder.

Are stress and anxiety the same thing?

No, they are not. While they may share certain common symptoms, their underlying causes, effects, and treatments differ.

Stress arises when an individual experiences pressure to meet a life demand or challenge. It is usually triggered by external events such as work deadlines or relationship conflicts. Meaning you can manage it through problem-solving techniques and lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly or practicing relaxation techniques.

Anxiety is an emotional response to fear or unease that can have physical and psychological components. It’s a normal reaction to danger or stress, but it can become problematic when someone experiences persistent unease without a clear source of danger.

What causes stress?

Various life factors can contribute to it, both internal and external. Internal causes may include fear, anxiety, negative thinking patterns, or unresolved personal issues.

External causes may include work or school pressures, financial worries, family problems, and challenging relationships. Other stressors that can cause distress are environmental factors such as noise pollution, poor air quality, overcrowding, or even too much screen time.

Physical factors such as illness, pain, fatigue, and lack of sleep can also contribute.

Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a person’s distress. In these cases, thinking more broadly about lifestyle factors contributing to overall levels, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or too little time for leisure.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety is caused by a complex interplay of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

Psychological factors may include fear or worry about an upcoming event or situation, difficulty managing stress, and unresolved issues from past experiences.

Biological factors such as genetics, neurotransmitter imbalances, hormonal changes in the body, physical illnesses or conditions can also contribute to anxiety levels.

Environmental triggers for anxiety may include a traumatic experience in the past or current life circumstances that bring feelings of insecurity and distress. Finally, drug use (both prescription and recreational) can lead to increased levels of anxiety as well.

Can a dysregulated Nervous System cause stress, anxiety, and burnout?

Yes, stress and anxiety are common symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system, as they are often caused by abnormal levels of stress hormones being released into the body. Furthermore, when the body is in a constant state of heightened alertness and over-reactivity, it can lead to burnout over time.

Burnout is often characterized by exhaustion and helplessness due to prolonged and unresolved stress.

The disruption in the body’s systems caused by a dysregulated nervous system means that these feelings are likely to persist even when there might not be any obvious external causes.

Meaning managing stress levels is key to managing a dysregulated nervous system and avoiding feelings of burnout.

What are the symptoms of stress?

Stress can affect people in different ways, both physically and mentally. Common physical symptoms include headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and increased heart rate.

Mental symptoms include racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating and staying focused, feeling overwhelmed by tasks or events, irritability, and restlessness. Additionally, people under stress may have difficulty completing tasks, lose their appetite, or become easily agitated.

Stress can also cause behavioral changes such as withdrawal from activities that used to bring joy, isolating oneself from friends and family members, using substances to cope with stressful feelings, neglecting responsibilities, overeating or undereating, or engaging in risky behaviors.

If you believe you are experiencing the above symptoms, it is important to seek help either from a mental health professional or someone who can offer professional guidance and support.

Why do I get stressed so easily?

Several contributing factors in life can make a person more prone to distress. These include mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and unresolved issues from past events. Additionally, major life changes such as job-related problems or retirement can trigger stress in some people.

The environment you are in may also be a factor. If negative people or situations constantly surround you, it can lead to increased levels over time. Other external factors, such as financial worries, a lack of sleep, and unhealthy lifestyle habits, can also impact how easily someone gets stressed.

How to find relief from stress, anxiety, or burnout?

Nervous system regulation can be a powerful tool for finding relief from stress, anxiety, and burnout. It works by rebalancing the body’s natural chemistry, building safety within the body, and calming the mind to offer deep relaxation.

When our nervous systems are dysregulated, this can create physical, emotional, and intellectual stress. Nervous system regulation helps to restore equilibrium in the body by targeting the underlying causes of stress and anxiety. This can lead to a feeling of increased peace and serenity while at the same time strengthening our resilience against future life stressors.

While most articles will tell you to simply “manage stress levels” with deep breathing exercises, yoga or meditation; nervous system regulation goes further than simply managing stress and allows you to heal your stress response from the root.

Dealing with chronic stress or anxiety? We can help!

It’s essential to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety in yourself so you can do something about it before it becomes a real problem. Understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing stress or anxiety – what works for one person may not work for another.

If you’re struggling to heal from chronic stress or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our world-class program The Nervous System Solution offers the structure, support and guidance needed to heal your body’s physical response to stress and anxiety, allowing you to improve emotional regulation.

Enrollment for The Nervous System Solution opens again soon! Don’t miss this window of opportunity by joining the waitlist here

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.