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Ask Dr. Lowenstein: Is it stress or anxiety, and is there a difference?

Stress is defined as a feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure, according to the Mental Health Foundation. It’s the body’s response to certain life situations, something external such as an argument with your spouse, too many deadlines at work, or concern about paying your bills. The feeling usually goes away once the situation passes or is resolved. 

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. It occurs when you’re worried or fearful that something threatening will take place. The feeling comes from inside, is persistent and continues even when the situation does not pose a threat. Some anxieties become full-fledged anxiety disorders, ranging from generalized anxiety to social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias.    

Because the body responds in a similar manner to both stress and anxiety, it’s easy to confuse them. Both frequently lead to an increased heart rate, insomnia, fatigue, muscle tension, irritability, and more. And while there is clearly a difference between stress and anxiety, both can be problematic if they start to affect your daily life and wellbeing. With that in mind, here are some coping strategies:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Laugh more frequently
  • Say no when you need to
  • Practice deep-breathing exercises
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Stop aiming for perfection
  • Accept that you can’t control everything

If stress and anxiety continue to be a problem and interfere with your ability to live a normal, productive life, it may be time to meet with a professional therapist.

Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.