SEATTLE -- Are you suffering from anxiety or is it stress?
May is Mental Health Month, and because many of us are living with a lot of uncertainty right now, we wanted to talk with the behavioral health medical director with Regence, Dr. Jim Polo, about the differences between the two.
“Stress and anxiety share many similar emotional and physical symptoms, uneasiness, fear, tension, headaches, increase of blood pressure, challenges with sleep…Understanding the differences between the two can actually help you improve both.”
Dr. Polo says stress is usually a response usually to an external threat in a situation.
“The threat of COVID infection is a great is a great example of a potential external threat. But threats can be as simple as an argument with somebody or missing a deadline. Our response to that stress is what then helps us deal with the threat and when the threat is resolved, usually the stress goes away with it.”
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a feeling that is driven internally as a specific response to whatever the stress is that somebody is feeling.
“Typically that feeling is one of dread and apprehension in situations that really aren’t threatening. And furthermore, even when the concern is resolved, that feeling tends to persist. Those feelings can be irrational. They can be intrusive. They may not even make sense to you.”
Dr. Polo says anxiety can create some big challenges with both cognitive and behavioral functioning. It can even lead to excessive worry or panic.
There are some things Dr. Polo says you can do to cope.
Seek out relaxation training, meditation, social support. Focus on underlying stress. It might sound counter intuitive, but that way you can resolve the stress and you won’t have feelings of anxiety. Stress can also be managed when you focus on the things you can control versus those that you don’t.
“You can’t control whether you are gonna get infected but you can control wearing a mask, you can control washing your hands.”
Because Dr. Polo says stress comes with a lot of physical symptoms: it tends to zap our energy, take away our motivation and affect our mood. Some simple lifestyle changes like adding exercise into your routine of focusing on your sleep can really help you manage chronic stress, which in turn leads to lower anxiety.