How To Recognise The Difference Between Stress & Anxiety

And what you can do about it.

difference between stress and anxiety
Image: iStock

Dr. Ginni Mansberg has been a trusted health and wellness GP for the past 20 years, she is an authority on a range of general health topics including sleep, managing stress, wellness and achieving life balance.
Ginni is also a Sydney GP on TV with Embarrassing Bodies Down Under (Channel 9), Sunrise & Morning Show (Channel 7), Things You Can’t Talk About on TV (YouTube), various mags, podcasts, lots of kids, 2 exuberant dogs, company director, strategy consultant, wannabe Masterchef and dedicated caffeine addict.


According to a recent report from Seremind, two-thirds of Australians surveyed admitted to experiencing mild anxiety, with 90% in the last month alone. Symptoms of mild anxiety may include feeling restless, easily tired, irritable, experiencing muscle pain, disturbed sleep, difficulty concentration and constantly worrying.
We’ve all felt stressed or anxious at one point or another, and for some, this may be a regular occurrence, but how do you know when it’s just the usual day-to-day stressors of life that’s getting you a bit worked up or something more chronic?
The words ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ are often used interchangeably, but they do carry two very different meanings as Sydney GP and spokesperson, Dr Ginni Mansberg helps explain here.

Stress vs anxiety

As Dr Mansberg explains, the symptoms can appear to be the same. These include feeling anxious, stressed and moody, having difficulty sleeping and experiencing physical symptoms such as tightness in the chest, nausea, not wanting to eat, heart palpitations and feeling like you can’t breathe.

stress and anxiety
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The differences are these:

  • In stress, there is a clear precipitant. For example, there is a round of funding cuts at work or someone in your family gets diagnosed with cancer and the stress resolves as the crisis resolves. In anxiety, it’s there constantly (6 months is the official definition).
  • With stress, you can still go out and enjoy your weekends with the kids or a dinner out with friends. Anxiety starts to cannibalise your free time so that you simply can’t relax and enjoy your life.
  • Anxiety also is linked to some disordered thinking. Kind of like catastrophizing. So for example, you worry you might get cancer even though there is no reason to believe your risk of cancer is higher than anyone else’s. Or you worry you’ll have a terrible time at a party for no good reason.
  • Lastly, your behaviour can start to change. You avoid taking the bus to work in case there are sick people on board who give you flu. You avoid going near parks in case there are dogs there that bite people. You keep calling in sick to work so you don’t have to face anyone.

If you feel as though you or someone close to you may be suffering from anxiety, know that there is help out there, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a medical professional. There are also ways to holistically manage anxiety, as listed below by Dr Mansberg:

Exercise

This doesn’t have to be a marathon run or anything too hard on your body. Dr Ginni recommends doing an activity you enjoy (or at least don’t hate) for 30 minutes a day.

fitness workout
Image: iStock

Diet

Diet is critical not just in ensuring you’re consuming adequate nutrients, but also to ensuring the development of a healthy gut microbiome (the trillions of bugs we ALL have that impact on so much of our physical and mental health). But if overhauling a car-crash diet seems too big a task, go for small improvements. Every Mars Bar you don’t eat is a win! Every vegetable you have is awesome. My tip: Get organized. Have washed, cut veggies, some cheese and nuts available and you’ll eat them!

Sleep

We said it before. While sleep can be elusive, you really do need at least 6 hours a night (8 is ideal!) for good physical and mental health. Chat to your GP if you simply cannot get that amount!

woman having trouble sleeping
Image: Unsplash

Meditation

A growing number of studies is demonstrating the positive impact of meditation on mental and physical wellbeing. Can’t get into the lotus position and no time to contemplate your chakras? Fear not! Meditation comes in all shapes and sizes and can be adapted to even the busiest lifestyle! Check out these apps which can help manage symptoms of anxiety.

Medication

My patients hate medications. I get that. I’m, a doctor and I hate diseases, like high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis and severe depression that could be totally well controlled with medications… and untreated can contribute to early loss of life. It’s your body, so you make the decisions. But can I ask you to at least be open to medication as a last resort if all else fails?

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