It’s no secret that we all experience a riot of emotions when we face difficult or trying circumstances in life. Perhaps it’s a big job interview that you’re worried about, a loved one’s illness, or marital struggles at home. Whatever the event or situation, we all experience them — and with that comes a heaping plate full of anxiety and stress.
But wait, Mike! Aren’t Anxiety and Stress the same thing? The quick answer is no. There is a fine line between the two.
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only
empties today of its strength.” — Charles Spurgeon
According to the American Psychological Association, stress is caused by an external trigger. That trigger can be short-term, such as a work deadline or that big move you have to make to a new home. Anxiety is an intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations — and it doesn’t go away in the absence of the stressor.
Identical Symptoms of Anxiety and Stress
- Intrusive thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping problems
- Excessive worrying, fear, and dread
- Hopelessness and helplessness
- Muscle pain or tension
Chronic stress causes wear and tear on your body, illnesses, and more. Anxiety can become a disorder if left unchecked, ultimately interfering with a person’s ability to function in life. That includes an inability to have strong relationships. One day, you’re hopeful about the future. And the next, you’re stressed to the max. During times like these, it’s easy for us to feel like life is too chaotic. It’s easy to feel defeated.
We mentioned this in a previous blog. The Mayo Clinic lists everything from genetics to personality to being female under their risk factors for anxiety. But there also are positive traits common among anxiety suffers (credit Gabrielle Moss):
- High verbal intelligence — A 2014 study conducted at Canada’s Lakehead University presented an interesting theory — it tested students both for verbal ability and anxiety. It found a connection between higher verbal intelligence and anxiety. Basically, folks who are good with words are found to also be more likely to worry.
- High IQ — Among folks afflicted with generalized anxiety disorder, higher levels of worry are correlated with a higher IQ. Dr. Jeremy Coplan, study creator, and professor of psychiatry at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center postulates that this connection may have been an early advantage. Reacting quickly to any perceived danger could spell the difference between survival and being killed for our early human ancestors.
- A more developed brain — Cognitive scientists at UC Berkeley found that two factors in brain development were common among people who were anxious — an overactive amygdala and an underactive ventral prefrontal cortex. The researchers subjected test subjects to random recordings of someone screaming and found that subjects with very active amygdalas showed higher-than-average fear responses when subjected to the screams.
- You’re a woman — Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. A lot of research shows women are simply hormonally predisposed to be more anxious. However, women don’t start out more anxious than men.
- Born a nervous baby — Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has spent several decades tracking babies from birth to adulthood. He found that the babies most stressed out by “novel stimuli” — i.e., babies who hated strange noises, toys, and smells — typically grew up into anxious teens and adults.
Learn to manage your thoughts and thinking
Learning to manage your thinking and thought processes is necessary for people with situational stress and anxiety or those with chronic anxiety. Often the person with stress and anxiety finds their thinking is negative, obsessive, worrisome, and overwhelming. They feel they cannot control their thoughts. But this isn’t true.
5 Steps to Deal with Anxiety and Stress
- Use a stress/anxiety log — Utilize a daily diary to help you capture and evaluate how the event or situations that come out in a given day affect your self-talk, how you think, and how you react and behave. By doing this, you can focus on responding differently in the future.
- Make a 5-step list — This helps us understand our situations and what we’re telling ourselves in those situations so we can modify how we think about them and what to do.
- Identifying a situation
- Identifying the emotions, you feel
- Understanding what you are telling yourself
- Evaluating your self-talk
- Changing your self-talk.
- Take rogue thoughts captive and reframe them — Evaluate the thoughts that go through our mind to see if they are true or to see if they are dysfunctional. Make sure that what we are telling ourselves is positive. Self-talk is one of the most critical aspects of managing stress, anxiety, and worry in our lives. What are you telling yourself regularly? Do you compare yourself positively to others, or do you evaluate yourself as superior or inferior?
- Keep negative out, let positive in — Anxiety usually causes negative thoughts about ourselves or a situation we’re facing. The key here is not to reinforce that negative thought or core belief. In other words, we need to focus on good things in our lives or about ourselves and reinforce those core beliefs, which are positive. Essentially, practicing turning negatives into positives and reinforce the positive thoughts only.
In conclusion, all we’re trying to say here is that we have more control over anxiety and stress than we think. Do a little bit every day, and you’ll be surprised how much better you feel.
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Did we leave anything out? What steps are you taking to remove anxiety from your life? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going at Mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.