Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Often we hear the words stress and anxiety together.
But does it both mean the same? No, they both are related but separated by a fine line.
Let me explain the difference to you.
Hanse Seyle, the father of stress theory defined stress as " the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it". The demand that can cause stress can be anything from a threat to a challenge.
Most of the time external cues like a work deadline, new baby, examination, loud noise etc trigger stress. But internal cues can also cause stress, eg: lack of sleep, self-criticism, multitasking etc.
Stress can be positive (eustress), which helps in your improvement or negative (distress), which hinders your performance. Stress is a response of our body to external or internal cues. Distress is the kind of stress that can create problems.
On the other hand, anxiety is the feeling of nervousness, worry, eagerness etc. It is a normal feeling. Stress and anxiety mostly go together, anxiety is triggered by a stressful situation. Eg: feeling before you go on stage. Anxiety is inevitable for preparing ourselves for reacting to a situation.
When the body is faced by stress, adrenaline and stress hormones like cortisol increase in our blood. We experience bodily changes like increased sweating, heavy breathing, increased blood pressure, tense muscles, increased alertness etc. This helps our body to deal with stressful circumstances. But continuous stress, also called chronic stress, can affect our body negatively.
When our body constantly faces stress, the body is always in an alert condition, this can lead to hypertension, increased chances for heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Immunity system is suppressed by stress, making the body more vulnerable to diseases, it can affect mental well-being too.
According to Cigna 360 well-being survey,2019, 82% of the Indian population is stressed and has attacked all groups of people and men suffer more stress than women.
So if anxiety is different from stress and if it is a type of emotion experienced, when does anxiety become a disorder?
Imagine all of the stressors are removed but a person still feels anxious, nervous or worried, then it is called a disorder. Anxiety is said to be pathological when it is excessive, frequent and impairs the functioning of a person. The cause of this intense anxiety is mostly internal and caused by varied unthreatening and subjective situations depending on the type of anxiety disorder present. The different types of anxiety disorders (DSM- V) are Specific Phobias, Social Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsory Disorder, Generalised Anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
3.8% of the global population ( 284 million) is diagnosed by anxiety disorders and it is the common mental disorder in the US. In India, 44.87 million people have been affected by anxiety disorders and the most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety. In all countries across the world, females are nearly twice as prone to anxiety than men.
Among the above types, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or free-floating anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder. It is characterised by an intense feeling of anxiety and worries mostly for no specific reason and present for at least 6 months. If a GAD person is asked why is he/she worried, they might have different non-threatening reasons or cannot point out any particular reason. He/she worries mostly about multiple factors like family, career, marriage, health etc and it hinders his/her normal day-to-day life. The person cannot relax or control anxiety, feels edgy, irritable, muscle tension and faces sleep deprivation. Chronic anxiety can also lead to hypertension, depression, diabetes 1 and other cardiac illnesses.
Coming back to our present state, COVID-19 has changed our lives in a major manner. A lifestyle we are
not accustomed to, restrictions in our movement, feeling of being stuck in a house or situation, job insecurity, uncertainty about the future etc. All this might be taking a toll out of many and the indefinity of this confinement can disquiet us, it is OK to feel stressed. Listen out! It is OK to feel anxious, angry or upset. We call it lockdown for a reason, it is not going to be very easy, so it is fine to have mixed feelings. It is normal but it shouldn't hamper your normal life or shouldn't weaken you mentally. Studies are showing that depression, stress and anxiety are increasing currently because of the global epidemic. You can read more about depression here. So, can we make it normal?
What can we do to overcome daily stress and anxiety disorder?
▪️Mindfulness- Studies show, mindfulness is one of the best practices to reduce stress and also helps in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
▪️Yoga and Yoga Nidra- yoga is good in mental and physical well- being. Yoga Nidra is a yoga practice for full-body relaxation and body awareness. It is a proven way to calm your anxiety.
▪️Meditation and other relaxing techniques- meditation and breathing techniques are very effective in relaxing your mind and body. Other techniques like aromatherapy, music therapy, art, dance, massage etc can help a lot in diverting your mind from tensions and fear.
▪️Therapy and counselling- If you think you cannot manage your thoughts always turn to a professional for therapy or counselling. Guided counselling will be helpful for anyone and everyone. Treatment therapies are suggested only if the doctor/psychologist thinks it is necessary. Talking to a friend or a family member will also help in ventilation.
▪️Medication- This again is the last resort for treatment. I always suggest please try all the above methods before. But if you think you might have an anxiety disorder please consult a psychiatrist/psychologist first.
▪️Laughter- The best stress buster. Laughter relieves the muscle tension and calms your body. But do not think that everyone takes in humour with the same attitude, so please be careful when you pull pranks or pass a funny comment.
As part of COVID-19, our Government has issued articles on guidance and awareness, including mental health. Mental health is stressed by our Government that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released this small note:
Be Kind to Your Mind Tips to cope with stress during COVID-19
1 PAUSE. Breathe. Notice how you feel
2 TAKE BREAKS from COVID-19 content
3 MAKE TIME to sleep and exercise
4 REACH OUT and stay connected
5 SEEK HELP call the helpline
General public health information.
You can find more information here: Government
This time can be difficult but there are more ways to overcome this situation with no much fear, so be supportive and let's get over this. But this is not just for the current situation, these tips can always help you to take away your stress and understand when you have to get help.