Stress is a real problem nowadays, especially during and after coronavirus pandemics. During the worst social isolation period, mental health received a severe blow.
Cases of anxiety disorders, chronic stress and depression skyrocketed in a few weeks or months. According to some doctors, there were more episodes of self-harm and suicide attempts than ever before.
But before and after that, stress and anxiety are still prevalent, mostly associated with our daily work. Instead of making our lives easier, technology is making us a bit desperate for faster results.
We want it, and we want it now. The same goes for clients and bosses, who sometimes push too hard. No wonder why burnout syndrome is becoming a hot topic in big companies and workplace environments.
But you don’t need to work extra hours or endure a pandemic to feel high-stress levels and severe anxiety. Staying safe at home, socializing with other people, being in crowded places, or just being stuck in traffic, they can all trigger this feeling.
We will also consider the signs and symptoms associated with each entity and how to destress and relieve anxiety.
What causes stress and anxiety?
There is not only one cause of stress and anxiety. Some of them are common causes. Others are individual for each one of us and have a psychological reason nobody else understands. However, these causes are usually shared among us, or at least in the majority of us (1, 2):
- Starting a new job: This is a common cause of stress, especially if you’re unsure about your new position. Being surrounded by new people and doing new things is always challenging.
- Being the new guy or girl at school: Just like a new job, a new school can be a cause of anxiety in younger people. They are very susceptible to changes and value their friends. So, it’s no wonder that such a significant change takes a toll on them sentimentally.
- Moving far from our loved ones: In adults and children, being far away from your loved ones has a similar emotional burden. Not having close relatives or any social support may cause severe stress.
- Getting injured: Physical injuries are a cause of physical stress. It is sometimes perceived as an emotionally stressful situation, too. Depending on how bad it is, patients may arrive at the emergency room with severe anxiety levels.
- Undergoing surgery: Even if you don’t realize, surgery puts your body in a stressful situation. Thinking about the upcoming procedure can be a cause of stress and anxiety, too.
- Chronic health problems: Having chronic health problems is another common cause of stress. Not being able to do day-to-day activities and feeling limited by chronic disease causes severe stress.
- Loved ones with health problems: Having loved ones with severe health problems is a source of stress. It may be a purely emotional or emotional and financial type of stress.
- Marriage and kids: Any change in your daily life causes a deal of stress, especially big decisions such as marrying and having kids. We should know that this will happen and be sure to face stress with ease and emotional intelligence.
- Being against the clock: Not having enough time, being late on a deadline, or stuck in traffic for work can cause a lot of stress. This type of perceived stress is usually self-limited, but its effects can last for a longer time.
- Financial stress: Running out of money is a modern source of stress we should know how to handle. It is pervasive in our society and a source of discussions and hardship.
- Bullying and mobbing: This type of mistreatment at school or work is becoming increasingly common. They can be severe causes of school or work stress and lead to physical illness, too.
- Side effects of medications or illicit drugs: Thyroid medication, diet pills, asthma inhalers, and feeling the urge to consume illegal drugs is another source of stress and anxiety we should consider.
Besides these common causes of stress and anxiety, we also have mental conditions that trigger similar symptoms (2):
- Generalized anxiety disorder: It is a type of anxiety that does not limit itself to the situations described above. In these cases, anxiety invades apparently normal life episodes, turning them into an unsuspected stress source.
- Panic disorder: These short episodes are self-limited but very intense. They are usually accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, and a sensation of imminent death. Panic disorder episodes repeat after specific triggers. Thus, patients may develop anxiety about the thought of having another attack.
- Phobic disorders: Phobia is an irrational fear of something harmless or not causing us immediate threats, such as the sight of a cockroach, touching cats, or being exposed to heights.
Stress and anxiety symptoms are somewhat similar to each other because they both trigger adrenaline, high-stress hormone (cortisol) levels, and other hormones.
However, they have vital differences we should know and understand. First of all, let’s talk about the symptoms stress and anxiety have in common. Then, we’re highlighting the differences between one and the other.
Stress and anxiety produce psychological and physical symptoms. Psychological or emotional symptoms include (2, 3):
- Nervousness or panic: Naturally, a great deal of stress and anxiety makes you feel nervous. In severe cases, nervousness is severe and accompanied by uncomfortable physical symptoms, as in a panic attack.
- Restlessness: It means not being able to stay quiet. This symptom is usually due to a psychological load of thoughts and worries, and more common in anxiety.
- Anger: Some people feel irrational anger as a response to stress and anxiety. For no apparent reason, they become irritable and very susceptible to violent bursts.
- Difficulty to concentrate: Even if stress comes from working against the clock, our capacity to focus usually becomes compromised. As it is, we could say that stressing and letting anxiety is counterintuitive for productivity.
- Sensation of imminent death: This is more common in severe cases of anxiety and panic attacks. Patients feel there’s an imminent threat, even if they can’t explain the exact reason.
On the other hand, physical symptoms of stress and anxiety include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat: Increasing our heart rate is a natural response of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. This part of the autonomic nervous system is triggered by stress and anxiety.
- Rapid breathing: As the heartbeat becomes rapid, breathing does the same. This is also known as hyperventilating, and it is a basic stress response. In severe cases, patients may even report difficulty breathing or a lump in their throat.
- Profuse sweating: This is another response of the autonomic nervous system to stress. It is prevalent and noteworthy in cases of social anxiety.
- Muscle tension: The muscles become tense as they are prepared to flee from a dangerous or stressful situation. That is why we become stiff and tense during anxiety and stress bouts.
- Stomachache: It is one of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms of stress and anxiety. The digestive tube is in close communication with the brain and the emotions. It is the most common area where stress is physically experienced.
- Headache: As a result of muscle tension in the neck and blood pressure changes, we may end up with a migraine or a severe headache.
- Frequent urination: Rapid heartbeat means that more blood flows through the kidneys every minute. Thus, they produce more urine. The bladder may also become more susceptible to pressure, making you feel the urge to urinate more often.
- Diarrhea: As a part of the gastrointestinal distress, we may also have changes in bowel movements. They usually manifest as diarrhea.
- Shaking: Shivering or shaking is common, mostly when anxiety is associated with fear as well.
- Fatigue: Severe stress increases the energy output by various mechanisms. It is also associated with depressive symptoms. Both factors contribute to feeling fatigued and tired.
The symptoms described above are typically found in both stress and anxiety. If that’s the case, what is the difference?
The best way to differentiate stress is by considering where is the cause of the symptoms above. In the case of stress, it is triggered by an external cause. For example, stress can be triggered by a tight deadline, by being late for work, or after having arguments or fights with friends or relatives. After the situation has resolved, stress symptoms usually subside (4).
Similarly, the main difference between stress and anxiety comes from the origin of the symptoms. In anxiety, the source is mostly internal and sometimes associated with an external stimulus.
Anxiety can be a stress reaction, but one with more psychological meaning. Anxious people feel s dread or apprehension to non-threatening situations. Another difference is that anxiety does not usually subside after the problem resolves. It stays there for a while longer, and it can start before the actual stressful event begins to unfold (4).
15 Ways to destress and relieve anxiety
With an increasing number of stressors around us and a tight schedule, there’s even enough room to breathe. However, there are many things we can do to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Here’s a list of useful ideas:
- Identify the trigger situation and solve the problem: We are often unsure of what is causing stress and anxiety. If this is your case, make a written list of what is triggering the symptoms. Then, come up with alternatives to prevent this from happening. For example, you could get your work done in time or decide to get professional help.
- Practice deep breathing: Breathing exercises are available for you every time, everywhere. That’s why taking a deep breath is such an excellent technique to destress and relieve anxiety (5).
- Use mindfulness techniques: These are closely related to deep breathing. Some mindfulness techniques like guided meditation use deep breathing to improve focus and calm. They have in common the principle of staying in the here and now and achieving progressive muscle relaxation (6).
- Set realistic aspirations and goals: Sometimes, we are ourselves the trigger of stress and anxiety. That’s why it is so important to have realistic ambitions. That way, you won’t feel frustrated because of what you didn’t achieve. Instead, you will be able to reflect and congratulate yourself on your progressive goals (7).
- Get a massage: Paying for a massage is sometimes a great investment to make. They are especially useful to reset your body and mind. After a massage, you can get back to work with top productivity, and it usually takes less than one hour (8).
- Exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins and makes you feel better. A gym routine after a tough day at work is sometimes a good idea to release stress. It also calms down your mind. Yoga is also an exercise and mindfulness technique that joins the best of both worlds. A yoga class can also be a productivity hack to consider if you have a creativity block (9).
- Laugh: Laughing is actually a type of therapy, especially for psychological problems. Watch a funny movie or series or gather with funny people who can lift your spirit. As you do, avoid feeling you’re wasting your time. This reset will help you get back to work with more focus and a clear mind (10).
- Listen to calm music: Classical music, minimalistic music, and certain soundtracks are excellent picks when you’re under stress. They have a soothing effect on your mind and help you calm down your thoughts (11).
- Have a hot bath: Hot temperatures trigger a soothing effect that goes from your body to your mind. It is linked to the sensation of feeling warm and safe in your mother’s womb. So, you can use that link to your favor, triggering relaxation in a hot tube with some lavender essential oils.
- Get help: Asking for help is not as bad as it seems, and people won’t be bothered by that to the extent most people assume. Actually, people are more willing to help than we think, and they may become a source of stress relief.
- Help others: You may feel better when you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others. Being helpful with others also creates a support platform that may come in handy later on.
- Look for social opportunities: Connecting with others is another way to relieve stress. Depending on your personality, it may be a fundamental step to remain calm (12).
- Sleep appropriately: Sleeping more than 6 hours a day is a critical recommendation to stay productive and healthy. Not having enough sleep is associated with poor focus, a reduced cognitive function, and a slower response to stimuli (13).
- Eat nutritious foods: On a similar line of thought, proper nutrition is also fundamental to staying productive and preventing future stress sources. Eating your daily share of fruits and vegetables is essential to maintain proper brain function and solve problems more efficiently.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake: Caffeine and alcohol can make you irritable and nervous. They can sometimes increase the intensity of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety (14).
Stress and anxiety are becoming pervasive problems in our society. They are not only psychological problems, but they do have physical symptoms as well. They also cause hormonal changes that may lead to other health problems.
But there are many ways to relieve stress and anxiety. We can use affordable and straightforward techniques, such as deep breathing.
There are lifestyle modifications, such as reducing caffeine intake and sleeping appropriately. And we also have other recommendations, such as getting a massage or enrolling in a yoga class. But if you consider that stress and anxiety are becoming severe problems in your life, do not hesitate to look for professional help.