As a working professional, you're no stranger to feelings of stress and anxiety.
You may use these terms when griping about making a sales quota, finances or even your messy house.
We often throw around "stress" & "anxiety" without considering the differences, likely because their symptoms overlap (increased heart rate, perspiration, etc.). But these emotions stem from two very different places, and not understanding their distinctions could affect your ability to cope.
So How Do Stress & Anxiety Differ?
Anxiety is generally a byproduct of fear while stress results from real-world stressors such as an upcoming presentation or deadline. With stress, you know what is causing the worry. With anxiety, the worry remains after the stressor is gone, making the culprit of these emotions less clear. The reaction of anxiety becomes the problem, creating a snowball-like effect.
We have all experienced the negative cycle of fear and anxiety. Thoughts like “I’m going to bomb this presentation” or the gut-wrenching fear of entering a meeting underprepared stir up feelings of anxiety and worry, though no real threat exists.
The Compounding Effects of Stress & Anxiety
When nervousness becomes irrational and unbearable, you may be experiencing anxiety. When these feelings persist, anxiety disorders can form. Similarly, prolonged feelings of stress can lead to chronic stress, which poses serious health threats if gone unchecked.
So what’s a stressed or anxious person to do?
To help navigate feelings of stress and anxiety, you need to remember that anxiety is a product of the mind, not your environment. Here are a few more strategies for squashing both anxiety & stress:
1. Acknowledge your feelings & their source
Embracing anxiousness might not seem like a smart move, but accepting these feelings actually turns on the body's natural relaxation response. By acknowledging the source of your stress or anxiety, you may come to find it isn’t worth the worry, especially if you’re feeling anxious about something out of your control.
2. Decide how you want to respond
Once you recognize the triggers of your daily distress, consciously decide how you will act in the face of these stressors. For example, if you dread a certain task at work, tell yourself you won’t get stressed when the time comes to complete it.
If you’re worried about impressing a new client, visualize a successful meeting. By preparing yourself for the stressor and coming equipped with a healthy response, you can minimize its effect on you.
3. Write a specific & actionable to-do list
There is never enough time in the day to check off every important task or chore. As a result, you may end the day feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything.
By scheduling out your day with specific timeframes and deliverables in advance, you can clearly see the progress you’ve made and actually start to accomplish
more. Studies on a range of tasks show that pinpointing when and where you will do a task can double or triple your chances of completing it.
When feelings of stress begin to mount, consider writing a list of specific actions you can take to overcome the stressor – and what you can’t do about things. Having an action plan will make these feelings more manageable and less overwhelming.
4. Reduce decision overload with routines
Did you know you make thousands of decisions big and small each day that take a huge toll on your mental state? Trivial decisions like what to eat or wear may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but when combined, they require some serious energy. By sticking to routines, you can reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day and the mental stress involved.
Having hyperhidrosis, I lived in constant fear of others noticing sweat marks on my dress shirts at work and in public (and judging me for it). Putting on a Thompson Tee before starting each day has helped me forget about my sweating problem and eliminate this constant stressor.
5. Try diaphragmatic breathing
Taking in more air through diaphragmatic breathing helps the body ward off stress, anxiety, depression, digestive issues and more.
To get started, lay on your back with your knees to your chest, one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Breathe in long and deep for 5-10 minutes while staying as still as possible, and repeat 3 times a day. With time, this type of breathing will feel more natural, and feelings of stress will also diminish.
6. Do progressive muscle relaxation
If anxiety keeps you up at night, progressive muscle relaxation is a powerful way to quiet that incessant voice in your head. While closing your eyes, tense each body part of the body (starting with your feet) for 5 seconds then relax it. This may take a while at first, but be patient because it will get easier and faster with time.
Stress and anxiety will always exist. It's your response to these feelings that will help you rise above them and center on achieving your personal and professional goals.
What tactics do you rely on to manage stress and anxiety?