Stress is a normal part of life. When you’re stressed, you might find it difficult to relax. Additionally, when stressed you can experience symptoms of common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
Stress comes in many different forms, from work-related stress to traumatic stress. Sometimes, stress can be helpful—it can motivate you to work toward your goals or give you enough energy to complete a task. But when stress becomes persistent, it can affect your ability to function in daily life.
What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?
While stress and anxiety are both emotional responses, stress is caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as making an important decision, or long-term, such as financial issues. People struggling with stress can experience both mental and physical symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle pain, and sleeping problems.
On the other hand, anxiety is caused by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away, even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety is associated with similar symptoms to stress: insomnia, fatigue, and irritability.
It’s normal to feel occasional anxiety and stress. However, if stress affects your daily life or mood, working with a therapist can help you identify your stressors and learn helpful coping strategies.
How common are stress and anxiety?
Stress is ubiquitous in the United States. In a 2017 report, 80% of survey participants reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress within the past month, while 20% experienced extreme stress levels within the past year.
Anxiety disorders are also common in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19% of adults experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, and 31% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder (social anxiety)
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
Signs of Stress
Reactions to stress vary from person to person. If you’re under too much stress, you might experience some of the following symptoms:
- Anxiety or worry: Stress can activate your body’s fight or flight response, and you might experience an increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, dizziness, or excessive anxiety.
- Feeling overwhelmed: Stress can make you feel like you’re unable to function in daily life.
- Interpersonal issues: Stress can make you feel irritable and angry, leading to conflicts with friends and family members.
- Physical symptoms: Stress is often connected to physical symptoms, including headaches, chest pain, and digestive problems.
- Difficulty sleeping: Stress can make you wake up feeling tired or find it hard to fall asleep at night.
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Causes of Stress
From relationships to current events, stress can arise from numerous factors. Some common causes of stress include:
- Daily stressors: Aspects of your everyday life, like an endless to-do list, can contribute to stress.
- Relationship conflicts: You might experience stress due to relationship conflicts with friends, family members, or significant others.
- Work conflicts: Career concerns are common stressors, with 61% of adults reporting work-related stress due to conflicts with coworkers and burnout.
- Major life transitions: Any significant life transition comes with some degree of stress, even positive changes, like marriage or moving to a new city.
- Discrimination: Individuals who experience discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability often experience high levels of stress.
- Current events: Following the 2016 election, concern over the political state of the country was a leading source of stress in the United States. News stories, world events, and social issues can all contribute to psychological stress.
- Traumatic events: It’s normal to feel on edge after a stressful event, such as a natural disaster or car accident. After a traumatic event, some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness characterized by intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, and chronic stress. According to the National Center for PTSD, there are numerous effective treatments for PTSD, but the first step is to seek professional help.
What should you do if you’re experiencing chronic stress?
Chronic stress can detrimentally affect your ability to function in daily life. The good news is that there are many different ways to combat stress and manage your symptoms.
- Therapy: Therapy is an effective treatment option for many people facing psychological stress. Working with a therapist can help you identify sources of stress and learn proven stress management techniques.
- Check-ups: Because chronic stress can be related to medical conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, it’s important to schedule regular check-ups with your health care provider to rule out any health problems contributing to your symptoms.
- Meditation and mindfulness: Meditation and mindfulness can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety that correspond with stress. If you don’t have time to meditate, deep breathing can help ground you when you’re feeling anxious.
- Social support: If you’re having trouble coping with a stressful situation, such as serious health problems or sexual assault, you might not find the support you need from loved ones. Joining a support group can help you meet others in similar situations.
- Exercise: According to the National Institutes of Health, regular physical activity can help with stress reduction.
- Self-care: Focusing on your physical health by eating a balanced diet and maintaining regular sleep patterns can help combat feelings of stress and anxiety. Additionally, setting aside times for activities you enjoy—whether that’s reading a good book or spending time with animals—can help with stress management.
Finding the Right Therapist
If you’re stressed out, working with a mental health professional can help you learn how to manage stress effectively and identify situations or behaviors that contribute to chronic stress. Common therapeutic approaches to stress include:
- Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: The oldest form of talk therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, is shown to have immediate and lasting benefits addressing high levels of stress and its impacts on physical health.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): CBT, a form of talk therapy, helps people facing stress regain control of their mental health, manage symptoms, and adopt effective strategies to deal with stressful situations.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT helps people control their stress response by opening up to unpleasant feelings and learning strategies to avoid overreacting.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on interpersonal issues, which can help people facing chronic stress manage their symptoms, improve interpersonal functioning, and find social support.
To find a mental health provider, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a qualified therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements.
Whether you’re struggling with social phobia, PTSD, or a related mental disorder, one of the experienced mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform will help you identify and understand your triggers and learn effective coping strategies.