In a world where words like stress and anxiety are used freely, it can become a little confusing when trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with you. So today, I’ll help you identify the difference between stress and anxiety and talk about what you can do if you are experiencing one (or both) of them.

Stress or anxiety? So what IS the difference?

Basically, stress is something that is situation related. It is something that we can experience in REACTION to something. And frustratingly, we can experience it throughout our lifetime, sometimes, even on a daily basis, until we remove ourselves from the situation that is causing us stress in the first place. One common example of where people find themselves stressed on a daily basis, is when they are really unhappy in their work situation. One Government study revealed that 12.5 million working days are lost each year, due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/2017 (source: hse.gov.uk), and as you can see from this statistic, stress, anxiety and depression are responsible for affecting a great deal of the population. So, if stress is such a debilitating and common issue, what exactly is responsible for causing it?

Stress

Well, stress can come about in relation to external and internal factors, i.e, things that happen around you (often out of your control) and the things that can happen inside of you (worry, thoughts). Some examples of external stressors could be work, relationship issues, being late for appointments or neighbours playing loud music at unreasonable hours. The things that often cause us stress externally are often are not within our control. However, while we cannot control what happens around us, we can control how we react to it.

Internal stressors could be worrying about the future and possible future events, that may or may not happen, ‘what if…..?’ scenarios if you will. These thoughts can start just like that, they may be triggered, or they may not be, but the severity of them and the length of time that they go on for can determine whether someone is experiencing stress or anxiety.

Anxiety

Anxiety is something that can occur, and can feel very similar to stress, but it isn’t always necessarily related to something specific. For example, we could be anxious when we go out in public but we might not be able to pinpoint exactly why. Anxiety can be experienced in relation to many things in a person’s life, and the catalyst can be changeable, in fact, there doesn’t necessarily have to be one specific catalyst. For some people, they can spend their life diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder.

Of course, anxiety can be related to an event that happened in a person’s life, and that negative experience has then left them anxious that the same sort of thing may happen again for them. So, next time you feel stressed or anxious, try the following exercise:

  • Stand wherever you are in that very moment, when you are feeling anxious or stressed, and just notice what is in front of you.
  • With your feet planted firmly on the ground, become aware of the ground beneath you.
  • Next, listen to the sounds around you. What smells can you smell? Start to use your senses and just appreciate what is going on.
  • Finally, look straight ahead, and just focus on a point that is in front of you. It can be anything that you like, and just allow your face muscles to relax and soften a little. As you relax, becoming more and more aware of your surroundings.

So why is this exercise helpful? When you are focused on something intently, such as when you are anxious or stressed, we call this being in a state of foveal vision. What this exercise aims to do, is take you out of that space, and put you into one that is more peripheral, one that allows you to step outside of that place of intent focus and worry, to notice what is going on around you and bring you back into the present moment. The great thing about this technique is that you can literally do it whenever and wherever you are when you feel your stress or anxiety taking over, so give it a go, you might just be pleasantly surprised to find there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Christopher Paul Jones is a Fear, Phobia and Anxiety Expert based in Harley Street. He is passionate about pulling people out of their negative patterns of behaviour and showing them how to be free of the emotions that can trap them like mental quicksand. Through his strong understanding that issues are not to be labelled or put in a box, Christopher has developed a coaching style that is high energy, fast paced and balanced between laser focused, unconventional and light hearted. You can find out more about Christopher at: www.christopherpauljones.com