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Understanding Mental Health: A Look at Stress and Anxiety

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close and we are left with ideas for how to better manage our behaviors and perhaps an increased awareness, I have to ask, are you better off? I am not asking to be facetious, I am asking because I care deeply about your health and well being. Setting aside a month for those in the wellness industry to post about tools and strategies (I am guilty of this) used to help alleviate stress and anxiety is not effective when it comes to treatment, understanding, and lifestyle changes. 

Mental and behavioral health are not fades that are in one month and out the next. Those suffering are not suddenly better because we have moved onto the next month. We continue to suffer while others move on. We suffer in silence most of the time because we don’t have the words to express how we are feeling or simply do not have the capacity to explain. Most days are silent because we believe no one will hear or understand us. 

To help those who suffer from mental health related issues, let’s give each diagnosis the attention it deserves and more importantly let's learn the differences. Stress, for example, is a very typical reaction to life events that may trigger worry or frustration. Stress over a long period of time will affect our physical health. I am certain many of you reading this can attest to this. It can also lead to anxiety but it is not the same. The sources and symptoms of the two are different. Without over simplifying things I’d like to shed some light on stress and anxiety. 

Understanding Stress

Typical human reactions to life events can range from feeling nervous before a big presentation to being sad after a loss. These emotions are part of the human experience and often subside once the triggering event has passed. For instance:

  • Nervousness before a public speech or an important interview.

  • Sadness or grief after the death of a loved one.

  • Frustration due to a setback at work or a personal project.

  • Excitement about a significant life change, such as moving to a new city.

These reactions are usually proportional to the event and temporary. They serve as emotional signals that help us navigate and adapt to our environment and the situations we find ourselves in.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a more persistent and pervasive state. It can occur even when there is no immediate threat or identifiable cause. Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, involve excessive worry, fear, and apprehension that interfere with daily life.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:

  • Persistent, excessive worry about various aspects of life.

  • Avoidance of situations that cause fear or nervousness.

  • Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and dizziness.

  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge.

How to Differentiate Between Stress and Anxiety

  • Duration and Intensity: Consider how long the feelings last and their intensity. Typical reactions are usually tied to specific events and subside over time, while anxiety tends to persist and may not have a clear trigger.

  • Impact on Daily Life: Assess whether the emotions interfere with daily activities. If the feelings are so overwhelming that they affect work, relationships, and personal care, it could be anxiety.

  • Physical Symptoms: Pay attention to physical symptoms. Frequent headaches, stomachaches, and muscle tension without a medical cause might indicate anxiety.

  • Pattern of Avoidance: Notice if there is a pattern of avoiding certain situations due to fear or worry. This avoidance can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Seeking Support

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety rather than typical stress, the coaches at Living Become are available to help.  Understanding the difference between typical human reactions to living a full life and anxiety is vital for overall well-being. It is important that each of us have an understanding of our unique lives and the stress we feel whether it is caused by an exciting move to a new city or a devastating loss. Let's take the space to learn, grow and heal based on our individual life experiences and health. Contact Living Become to discuss your individual needs and we will help establish a program and practices that will have you feeling fantastic and living your purpose.


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