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Worried, stressed or anxious?

Is it Worry, Stress or Anxiety?

We all experience worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day. But if you were asked 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.

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 and makes us more likely to problem-solve or take action, both of which are positive things. It 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.

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.

So what is Stress?

Stress materialises in many different ways, it can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, acne, digestive problems, fatigue, high blood pressure and poor immunity. It produces physiological responses connected to an external event.

The word ‘stress’ is defined as hardship, adversity, force, or pressure. When our body is faced with it a vital response kicks in, the fight-or-flight response.

Millennia ago, the likeliest threat a human being would encounter to spark this response would be a threat to your life such as the attack of a wild animal. 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 or for many the current world health and economic crisis).

Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.

What then, is Anxiety?

If worry and stress 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.

Anxiety can be seen as a general term for a number of disorders that cause feelings of nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry, though anxiety is normal and part of being a human being. Many people, are not aware of WHY they are anxious - they just are. Anxiety can be really persistent and for many it can be completely overwhelming, making it difficult to manage everyday life. Nowadays, that “fight or flight mode can be triggered by emotionally-challenging situations, rather than a life-threatening physical threat.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety (these vary greatly from person to person)

Physical Symptoms:

  • headaches or dizziness

  • muscle tension or pain

  • stomach problems

  • chest pain or a faster heartbeat

  • sexual problems

  • nausea

Mental ill-health signs:

  • difficulty concentrating

  • feeling overwhelmed

  • constantly worrying

  • being forgetful

Behavioural symptoms

  • being irritable and snappy

  • eating too much or too little

  • avoiding certain places

  • over-breathing (hyperventilating)

  • drinking, smoking, gambling more

Anxiety Disorders Anxiety disorders can develop from a complex set of risk factors including brain chemistry, personality, and life events. According to the charity MIND, anxiety disorders can be classified into seven main types:

  1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - a disorder involving excessive worry over non-specific events and/or situations;

  2. Panic Disorder - sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension;

  3. Phobias - irrational fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation;

  4. Social Anxiety Disorder - fear of being negatively judged by others;

  5. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - compulsive thoughts, behaviours or actions that are repetitive in nature;

  6. Health Anxiety - Obsessing about health, assuming any ache or pain is something serious, and researching symptoms and ailments;

  7. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - anxiety from a previous trauma. Often leads to flashbacks.

Stimulus Triggers

Anything can potentially “trigger” an anxiety episode, you may not even be aware of how it started. It could be a certain smell, or even a sound that triggers the anxiety response.

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

Identifying The Anxiety Triggers will help you to manage your feelings.

Documenting your anxiety episodes can really help identify possible triggers and patterns to your anxiety.

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?

Flipping The Focus

We cannot change what has happened to us - but we can choose how we decide to react to it. The one thing we have full control over is what we choose to focus on so try Changing your Mindset

  1. Find a positive alternative prospective;

  2. See the event for what it was, not how it felt;

  3. Get out of victim mode, and to make the decision to be the victor

What Happens When You Have Greater Control Over Anxiety?

The research is there - if you have greater control over the stress in your life, you will feel better and live longer!

  • Your immune system will be stronger

  • Your stamina will be increased

  • You will make better decisions

  • The overall quality of your life will be significantly enhanced

  • Not just for those who feel like they are stressed but anyone who wants to be more relaxed and resilient

  • You will experience less anger, less fear, less physical discomfort and a greater sense of background happiness and well-being

  • You will achieve deep states of relaxation

  • You will have more energy

  • You will be more effective in your every-day life

  • You will access your body’s natural ability for instant calm and deep relaxation

  • You will change your response to stress and worry and stay at your best for longer

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