Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Is it Worry, Stress or Anxiety?
We all experience worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day.
But if you asked yourself which you were experiencing - worry, stress or anxiety - would you know the difference?
What is Worry?
Worry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong.
Worry tends to be those repetitive, obsessive thoughts.
Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, USA described it as: “The cognitive component of anxiety.”
Simply put - worry happens in your mind, not in your body
How does worry work?
Worry does have an important function in our lives.
When we think about an uncertain or unpleasant situation - such as being unable to pay the rent, or doing badly in an exam - our brains become stimulated.
When we worry, it calms our brains down.
Worry is also likely to cause us to problem-solve or take action, both of which are positive things.
Worry is a way for your brain to handle problems in order to keep you safe
It’s only when we get stuck thinking about a problem that worry stops being useful.
Remember: Worry is helpful only if it leads to change - not if it turns into obsessive thoughts.
Top Tips to help with worry:
Give yourself a “worry window” - an amount of time in which you actually allow yourself to worry about a problem. When that time is up (start with 20 minutes), consciously redirect your thoughts.
When you notice that you’re worried about something, push yourself to come up with a next step or a solution-focused answer.
Write your worries down. Research has shown that just eight to 10 minutes of writing can help calm obsessive thoughts.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physiological response connected to an external event.
In order for the cycle of stress to begin, there must be a stressor. This is usually some kind of external circumstance, like a work deadline or a test.
The word ‘stress’ is defined as hardship, adversity, force, or pressure.
When our body is faced with it, whether from internal or external sources, a vital response process kicks in.
This is referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
Millennia ago, the likeliest threat a human being would encounter to spark this response would be the attack of a wild animal, someone screaming at you, or weeks without food.
It makes sense, then, that you’d need the strength to fight back or to run away fast.
When our body is in fight or flight mode, adrenaline and cortisol is released. The heart rate goes up and blood gets pumped to our limbs and away from our digestive and reproductive system.
Pupils dilate to help us see and the mind becomes hyper-vigilant. The blood sugar levels go up too.
In a healthy stress response, the cortisol level rises and falls quickly - as soon as the presumed threat is out of the way.
Chronic stress, is when your body stays in this fight-or-flight mode continuously (usually because the situation isn’t resolved, as with financial stressors or a challenging boss).
Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.
Remember: Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives.
What is Anxiety?
If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the culmination.
Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress), which means that anxiety is experienced in both mind and body.
Remember how stress is a natural response to a threat?
Well, anxiety is the same thing... except there is no threat.
For example: you show up at work and somebody gives you an off look. You start to have all the physiology of a stress response because you’re telling yourself that your boss is upset with you, or that your job might be at risk. The blood is flowing, the adrenaline is pumping, your body is in a state of fight or flight - but there is no predator in the bushes.
Anxiety can be likened to a response to a false alarm
We experience anxiety in our body and our mind
According to the World Health Organisation, anxiety is ‘a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease’.
At present, anxiety is the widest cause of depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
And the figures are rising.
When we understand why our bodies create the sensation of anxiety, it can begin to reduce the negative impact that is felt.
Anxiety can be seen as a general term for a number of disorders that cause feelings of nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry.
Anxiety is Normal!
Anxiety is a normal part of being a human being.
Everyone will feel anxious at some time in their life - perhaps over having to give a presentation, or over a health concern.
But once the event is over, the anxiety disappears.
Many of you, are not aware of WHY you are anxious - you just are.
Anxiety can be really persistent and for many it can be completely overwhelming, making it difficult to manage everyday life.
Where Does Anxiety Come From?
The ability to create anxiety has existed in human beings since we were cave-dwellers.
Anxiety formed part of the “fight, flight or freeze” life-saving mechanism to protect us from ferocious animals.
The “fight, flight or freeze” mechanism releases adrenaline to prime the body and create a sudden surge of energy. The dose of adrenaline increases the heart rate to pump more blood around the body, enabling us to flee from danger.
The “freeze” occurs just before deciding to take flight - sometimes “playing dead” may be the best defence in a situation.
By and large, we no longer need to save ourselves from wild animals.
Now, that “fight, flight or freeze” in our modern lives is triggered by emotionally-challenging situations, rather than a life-threatening physical threat.
The Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms a client may experience due to this surge of adrenaline could include:
headaches or dizziness
muscle tension or pain
numbness or tinging in the face
tension in the chest
Anxiety Disorders According to the charity MIND, anxiety disorders can be classified into nine main types:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - a disorder involving excessive worry over non-specific events and/or situations;
Panic Disorder - sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension;
Phobias - irrational fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation;
Social Anxiety Disorder - fear of being negatively judged by others;
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - compulsive thoughts, behaviours or actions that are repetitive in nature;
Health Anxiety - Obsessing about health, assuming any ache or pain is something serious, and researching symptoms and ailments;
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - anxiety from a previous trauma. Often leads to flashbacks.
Anything can potentially “trigger” an anxiety episode, often without a person even being conscious of it.
It could be a certain smell, or even a sound that triggers the anxiety response.
Identifying The Anxiety Triggers
Documenting your anxiety episodes can really help identify possible triggers and patterns to that anxiety.
You might like to make a note of the following whenever you are feeling anxious:
• Date • Time • Where Am I? • Who am I with? • What can I see? • What can I hear?
• What can I smell? • What can I taste? • What am I touching? • What am I feeling? • Why might I be feeling like this?
What am I thinking about?
The Two Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety is a symptom and there tends to be just two types of triggers:
1. Learned Behaviour - Copying parents, friends, siblings etc
2. Learned Responses - A learned response to a negative life event
Flipping The Focus
We cannot change what has happened to us - but we can choose how we decide to react to it.
Past Life Events
Negative or traumatic past events often have the biggest impact on feelings of anxiety.
Your Daily Eight-Point Action Plan For Success
1. Exercise for thirty minutes per day - ideally outside
Exercise has such a profound effect on happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming stress and anxiety.
2. Accept that anxiety is a learned behaviour
Remind yourself that the feelings of anxiety do not belong to you. When you feel any of those old unwanted sensations, look around yourself and reassure yourself that there are no dangers. Then say “Thank you, but I don’t need protecting right now”
3. Eat three meals a day- choose nutritional foods, and limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake (Because anxiety is physiological, stimulants may have a significant impact)
4. Increase the Joy in your life
Build a complimentary set of neural pathways so that your brain begins to default to feelings of joy and relaxation. As you continually instruct your brain today to pay attention to good feelings, it will notice them more and more often. From this moment forward, anytime you notice yourself feeling a particularly good feeling in your body, put your hand on your heart and take a moment to acknowledge how good it feels. Next, give your mind the instruction to seek out more of this good feeling in the future or simply say out loud; “I feel good!”
5. Talk to yourself in a confident way
Keep making those big, bold, positive pictures in your mind. Remember - the more we think and focus on how we want life to be, this is how it will be.
6. Anxiety Distraction Technique
Distraction can be a good way to fend off any sudden symptoms of anxiety. This can also allow you to “take a step back from the world” and take a more considered approach to the situation, rather than a “reactive” one.
Distraction is simply taking your focus onto something else for a few moments. If you do this for around three minutes, you will find that any sudden symptoms will dissipate.
Choose any one of these distraction techniques:
Visualise being in your favourite place/favourite holiday destination, close your eyes and imagine every aspect of that place - what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to be there
Count backwards with your eyes closed from 200 in multiples of 2 - if you forget where you were, simply pick up where you think you left off, and allow your mind to wander to wherever it chooses
Engage in an “Active activity” i.e taking yourself for a walk, or creative activity, like drawing or painting
7. Get plenty of sleep
Good quality sleep is essential for a healthy mind and body. Insufficient sleep can have a detrimental effect on your mood, and sleep deprivation increases anxiety levels
8. Positive Thoughts
• Your past does not have to equal your future • Sever the emotional links from the past by choosing to let go of guilt, anger, envy, hate and self-pity.
Download this complementary audio Calm and Relaxation
Contact Diane Kirkham www.apthypnotherapy.com for a personalised consultation, online consultations available.