Stress and anxiety are a common element in our day to day lives. Most people will experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees at some point in their lives. Depending on how severe the levels of stress and anxiety are, they can have a detrimental impact on one’s quality of life. While stress and anxiety share many of the same physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms such as uneasiness, tension headaches, elevated blood pressure, and loss of sleep, they have different root causes. It is important to determine which one you are experiencing before you can find an effective treatment plan.
Stress and anxiety are not always bad. When experienced in short term increments, they can help you overcome a challenge or a dangerous situation. Examples of everyday stress include worrying about employment, feeling nervous before a big test or medical appointment, or even being embarrassed in certain social situations such as having to present at a meeting. If stress or anxiety were not part of the equation for conditions such as these, we might not find the motivation to do the things we need to do to overcome the moment.
However, when stress and anxiety begin to interfere with everyday life, it may indicate a more serious mental health issue. If you find that you are avoiding situations (or people) due to irrational fears, constant worry, or feeling severe anxiety about a traumatic event weeks or months after it happened, it may be time to seek help.
What is Stress?
Stress is most commonly a response to an external event (or cause) such as arguing with a significant other or a deadline at work or school. These emotions typically subside once the situation has been resolved. Stressors are a demand that is put on your brain or your physical body as a result of an external factor. Because an external event or stimulus causes stress, choosing to confront these situations, head-on can help to alleviate them. If, on the other hand, you find you are experiencing prolonged or chronic stress, it may be beneficial to seek an alternate way to help alleviate your symptoms.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. Anxiety is a specific reaction to a stressful event. Unlike stress, where the origin is external, the source of feelings of anxiety is internal. Anxiety is typically characterized by feelings of apprehension or dread in situations that would not generally be considered as threatening.
Where stress often goes away after the emotion-inducing event has passed, anxiety persists even after the situation has passed. In even more severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, which is the most common mental health issue in the United States. Anxiety disorders can be classified in a variety of ways, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What do Stress and Anxiety Feel Like?
Stress and anxiety can produce a host of physical and psychological symptoms. People will experience stress and anxiety differently, so no two people will necessarily report the same symptoms. Below are lists of common physical and psychological symptoms commonly reported with stress and anxiety. One person may experience only a couple of these symptoms, whereas someone else may experience many of them. How stress and anxiety are “felt” will depend on the severity of the person’s condition.
Common Physical Symptoms
Common physical symptoms of stress and anxiety include stomachaches, muscle tension, headaches, rapid breathing, increased heartbeat. Sweating, dizziness, increased urination, tremors, appetite changes, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, and fatigue.
Common Psychological Symptoms
In addition to the physical symptoms commonly associated with stress and anxiety, a person can feel a variety of psychological and emotional symptoms. These can include feelings of impending doom, panic or nervousness (especially in social settings), difficulties concentration, irrational fear or anger, and restlessness.
As noted above, long term stress and anxiety can eventually have adverse health-related impacts as well. People who suffer from chronic stress and anxiety are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and possibly other mental health disorders such as depression and panic disorders.
What Causes Stress and Anxiety?
For most people, the feelings associated with stress and anxiety are fleeting. They typically occur in association with a specific event and disappear once the event has passed. Stress and anxiety share many of the same causes as anxiety is directly related to stress. Everyday stressors can include any of the following:
- Moving to a new state or town
- Starting a new school or a new job
- Having an illness or injury
- Having a friend or family member who is ill or injured
- The death of a family member or a friend
- Getting married or having a baby
Prescription and recreational drugs and medications can also cause symptoms of anxiety. Drugs that contain stimulants may make the symptoms associated with stress and anxiety worse. Also, regular use of caffeine, illicit drugs (such as cocaine), and even alcohol can exacerbate symptoms.
It is not only illicit drugs that can increase the negative symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. There are a variety of prescription medications that can have the same unpleasant effects. Such medications include those given to treat conditions of the thyroid, asthma inhalers, and diet pills (as they often contain caffeine or other stimulants).
Managing Stress and Anxiety
It is normal to experience stress and anxiety on occasion, and there are several strategies you can use to make the feelings associated with them more manageable. Take notice of how your body and mind respond to stressful and anxiety-producing situations. The next time a similar stressful experience occurs, you will be able to anticipate how you will react to it. This means the situation is likely to be less disruptive to your day to day tasks.
You can also try specific lifestyle changes that may help alleviate the symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. Trying some of these techniques can be used either alone or in conjunction with various therapeutic treatments such as those offered here at Hillcrest to help reduce your symptoms. Stress and anxiety reduction techniques, you could try include the following.
- Eating a balanced and healthy diet
- Limiting or reducing your consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Ensuring you are getting enough sleep
- Starting (or reviving) a regular exercise routine
- Yoga or meditation
- Making time for or trying a new hobby
It also helps to recognize the events, people, or situations that are triggering for you. Once you understand this better, you can make a conscious decision to avoid them. If you are unable to avoid them altogether, you will have better foresight into how your body and mind are likely to react and plan ahead with healthy coping mechanisms.
Treating Stress and Anxiety
If you experience stress and anxiety on a regular or chronic basis, it may be time to consider seeking treatment. Long term stress and anxiety can result in significant physical and emotional challenges.
There are many ways to seek treatment for stress and anxiety. These options can range from outpatient therapy to a residential treatment program like Hillcrest. If you are struggling to cope with stress and anxiety or the instances of stress and anxiety have become frequent and overwhelming, your primary care provider may refer you to a mental health provider.
During therapy sessions, whether outpatient or residential, your provider may use a psychotherapy technique known as talk therapy to help you work through your stress and anxiety. Your therapy provider may also teach you applied relaxation techniques to help you to manage your stress.
Two popular forms of psychotherapy used in the treatment of stress and anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Exposure therapy.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a popular and effective therapeutic technique used for managing anxiety. This type of treatment teaches the person to recognize anxious thoughts and behaviors that result in adverse reactions. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help the person change negative or harmful thoughts into beneficial or positive thoughts that are less likely to produce the symptoms of anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be used in individual therapy sessions or in a residential program such as that here at Hillcrest.
Exposure therapy and systematic desensitization can be useful in treating phobias and excessive fears. These therapy modalities involve gradually exposing the person to anxiety-provoking stimuli (such as those events or situations that are known to produce stress) in slow, incremental steps. Eventually, the goal of exposure therapy is to expose the individual to the feared stimuli enough, so the fear resolves, and the situation is no longer viewed as stressful.
Your provider may also recommend medications to help treat a diagnosed anxiety disorder. There are several medications on the market that are used for this purpose. These may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline (Zoloft) or paroxetine (Paxil). Sometimes anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) such as diazepam (Ativan) or lorazepam (Valium) may be prescribed. Due to benzodiazepines’ addictive nature, these medications are generally used on a short-term basis to reduce the risk of addiction.
Stress and anxiety are interrelated. Anxiety and the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders are generally the direct results of a stressful event or chronic stress management difficulties. If you find yourself struggling to cope with stress and anxiety symptoms, it may be time to consider a treatment program such as Hillcrest. Long term stress and anxiety can lead to harmful, physical effects on your body systems and overall emotional health. At Hillcrest, we will design a treatment plan centered around your health and your specific needs. We can help you to determine the root cause of your stress and learn how to manage both stressful situations and associated anxiety symptoms. If you are ready to live a happy life with reduced stress and anxiety symptoms, call Hillcrest today.