How to Cope with Stress and Anxiety
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety; however, there is a point where both can get out of hand and significantly impact daily life. While stress and anxiety are closely related, they’re not the same—one is a mental illness, and the other isn’t.
Here’s a closer look at the signs and symptoms, triggers, and how to manage stress and anxiety.
What are Stress and Anxiety?
Stress is the physical and mental response to an external cause, like being overworked at work or going through a breakup. Stress can stem from a single situation or last over a long period—known as chronic stress.
Stress is not the same as a mental illness, but if stress is left unmanaged, it can lead to various diseases like anxiety and depression.
Anxiety can feel like stress, but according to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety is “an emotion by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” [*]
Anxiety is unique in that it can appear out of nowhere and for no reason. It’s an internal sensation of apprehension or dread that can interfere with everyday life and manifests differently for everyone.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety are nearly the same: [*]
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
Recognize Your Stress Triggers
Stress and anxiety can pop up, seemingly, out of the blue. So, what causes stress? It may be hard to pinpoint. Keep a journal and note what sort of events, people, and situations stir up stressful and anxious feelings.
Here are some things you may want to include when taking note: location, type of situation, people you were with, big emotions, thoughts, and actions. This sort of self-assessment will help you identify your triggers, how you behave under pressure, and improve your ability to cope.
Managing Stress and Anxiety in Daily Life
If left to its own devices, stress can cause significant health issues down the line. And if anxiety is unmanaged, it can become debilitating in some instances. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of both.
It’s best to figure out ways to cope with stress and anxiety early on because if left unmanaged, it can lead to developing unhealthy coping methods like drinking and drug use.
Untreated anxiety and stress can lead to an array of challenging physical and mental diseases:
- Mental Diseases: Depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.
- Physical Diseases: Heart disease, high blood pressure, brain damage, and developing dementia later in life. [*]
Stress and anxiety are unavoidable, but there are many ways to boost your resilience and easily manage both effectively. Below we map out seven of our favorite ways to destress. [*]
7 Ways to Destress
- Practice Gratitude – Taking the time to write down or think of three things you’re grateful for each day has psychological, physical, and social benefits. Practicing gratitude will boost positive emotions and mood, stimulate a stronger immune system, improve sleep, increase empathy, and strengthen relationships. [*]
- Reduce Caffeine Intake – Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, and exceeding the recommended 300mg per day can increase feelings of stress and anxiety. It also disrupts your sleep. If you’re having trouble quieting your mind, limit caffeine after 3 p.m. or switch to a caffeine-free coffee alternative.
- Create Boundaries – When life feels out of hand, it’s time to set boundaries with people who add to your stress levels. Learning how to say no is a significant first step—this can protect your mental health and reduce stress.
- Avoid Procrastination – Stress and anxiety can cause a freeze response, which means we procrastinate and avoid tasks at work and home. A way to take control of your stress and anxiety is to stay on top of your priorities, don’t wait until the last minute to do things, especially when they’re important.
- Practice Mindfulness– Mindfulness helps you stay in the present, which anxiety can send us spiraling to the future. Incorporating a daily meditation practice, even for a short period, can decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety. [*]
- Get Active – Physical activity helps get you out of your head and into your body. A regular exercise routine can lower stress levels and improve mood. [*]
- Eat Healthy– What you eat can affect your mental health. Research has shown that those with a diet high in processed food and sugar are more likely to have higher stress levels. Eating more whole foods—vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts—will fuel your body with nutrient-dense food and improve your resilience to stress. [*]
The Last Sip
Although stress and anxiety are an unavoidable part of life, being chronically stressed and living with unmanaged anxiety can negatively affect your physical and mental health.
Try a few of the well-researched strategies listed above and see what works best in reducing stress and anxiety in your life. And if you feel like your stress levels and anxiety are beyond what self-care can do, a mental health professional can help.