Stress vs Anxiety

stress is a big cat in a small box

Now that we’ve done some social distancing, it’s time to evaluate our stress level. Some of us should be waking up to the fact that our previous “always on the go” lifestyle was unhealthy. Even our socialization and play-time might have been too energetic to be maintained. Were we climbing a ladder at work that really wasn’t worth the effort? Were we stressing out about the trivial? Even from semi-retirement, I am using this quarantine time to trim my calendar and plan not to participate in some things when the crisis is over.

Others of us are under more stress. We now worry more about elderly loved ones, especially those living at a distance. We might have additional tasks at home and children to keep entertained. Those in the healthcare, delivery services, and public protection fields are under even greater stress and deserve our support, prayers, and gratitude.

Stress is different from Anxiety. Stress is like a big cat in a small box. It involves our mental, physical, and human limitations. Stress also involves our tendency to put too much on our own plate. It is usually relieved when we get help, delegate, and/or set boundaries. It is specific and situational. We can usually discern a pattern to its rising and falling.

Anxiety feels like stress, but requires a different coping strategy. Anxiety breds quickly when we lack internal awareness or the ability to clarify our feelings. It is fear-based and vague. It usually partners with depression, where stress prefers mania. We try to make decisions and change things in our lives, but nothing relieves the knot in our stomach. The coronavirus has raised our national level of anxiety. We have come to fear our fear of it.

Just as some germs are defeated by strong sunlight, our anxiety needs to be brought out of the darkness. Mild anxiety can be handled by making lists: what will change/what will not?, what are my strengths in this situation/where am I vulnerable?, who should I listen to/who is only making me more anxious?, what is at risk/what are the new opportunities?, etc. If our anxiety worsens, though, we may need to see the help of a mental health professional.

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