The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety

They’re not all the same, but we do have tips to help you deal with all of them.

Credit…Peter Gamlen

By Emma Pattee

  • Feb. 26, 2020

You probably experience worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day. Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Three out of four Americans reported feeling stressed in the last month, a 2017 study found. But in one of these moments, if asked which you were experiencing — worry, stress or anxiety — would you know the difference?

I reached out to two experts to help us identify — and cope with — all three.

Worry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong. “Worry tends to be repetitive, obsessive thoughts,” said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif., and the author of “The Stress-Proof Brain” (2017). “It’s the cognitive component of anxiety.” Simply put, worry happens only in your mind, not in your body.

Worry actually has an important function in our lives, according to Luana Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. When we think about an uncertain or unpleasant situation — such as being unable to pay the rent, or doing badly on an exam — our brains become stimulated. When we worry, it calms our brains down. Worry is also likely to cause us to problem-solve or take action, both of which are positive things. “Worry is a way for your brain to handle problems in order to keep you safe,” Dr. Marques explained. “It’s only when we get stuck thinking about a problem that worry stops being functional.”

  • Give yourself a worry “budget,” an amount of time in which you allow yourself to worry about a problem. When that time is up (start with 20 minutes), consciously redirect your thoughts.
  • When you notice that you’re worried about something, push yourself to come up with a next step or to take action.
  • Write your worries down. Research has shown that just eight to 10 minutes of writing can help calm obsessive thoughts.

Remember: Worry is helpful only if it leads to change, not if it turns into obsessive thoughts.

Stress is a physiological response connected to an external event. In order for the cycle of stress to begin, there must be a stressor. This is usually some kind of external circumstance, like a work deadline or a scary medical test. “Stress is defined as a reaction to environmental changes or forces that exceed the individual’s resources,” Dr. Greenberg said.

In prehistoric times, stress was a natural response to a threat, like hearing a predator in the bushes. Today, it still prompts a behavioral response, firing up your limbic system and releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which help activate your brain and body to deal with the threat, Dr. Greenberg explained. Symptoms of stress include a rapid heart rate, clammy palms and shallow breath. Stress might feel good at first, as the adrenaline and cortisol flood your body, Dr. Marques said. You might have experienced the benefits of stress as you raced through traffic to get to an appointment, or pulled together an important assignment in the final hour. That’s called “acute stress,” and the rush wore off when the situation was resolved (i.e. you turned in your assignment).

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when your body stays in this fight-or-flight mode continuously (usually because the situation doesn’t resolve, as with financial stressors or a challenging boss). Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.

  • Get exercise. This is a way for your body to recover from the increase of adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Get clear on what you can and can’t control. Then focus your energy on what you can control and accept what you can’t.
  • Don’t compare your stress with anyone else’s stress. Different people respond differently to stressful situations.

Remember: Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives.

If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the culmination. Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress), which means that we experience anxiety in both our mind and our body. “In some ways,” Dr. Marques said, “anxiety is what happens when you’re dealing with a lot of worry and a lot of stress.”

Remember how stress is a natural response to a threat? Well, anxiety is the same thing … except there is no threat.

“Anxiety in some ways is a response to a false alarm,” said Dr. Marques, describing a situation, for example, in which you show up at work and somebody gives you an off look. You start to have all the physiology of a stress response because you’re telling yourself that your boss is upset with you, or that your job might be at risk. The blood is flowing, the adrenaline is pumping, your body is in a state of fight or flight — but there is no predator in the bushes.

There is also a difference between feeling anxious (which can be a normal part of everyday life) and having an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a serious medical condition that may include stress or worry.

  • Limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake. Because anxiety is physiological, stimulants may have a significant impact.
  • Check in with your toes. How do they feel? Wiggle them. This kind of refocusing can calm you and break the anxiety loop.
  • When you’re in the middle of an anxiety episode, talking or thinking about it will not help you. Try to distract yourself with your senses: Listen to music, jump rope for five minutes, or rub a piece of Velcro or velvet.

Remember: Anxiety happens in your mind and your body so trying to think your way out of it won’t help.

Here’s the takeaway: Worry happens in your mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body. In small doses, worry, stress and anxiety can be positive forces in our lives. But research shows that most of us are too worried, too stressed and too anxious. The good news, according to Dr. Marques, is that there are simple (not easy) first steps to help regulate your symptoms: Get enough sleep; eat regular, nutritious meals; and move your body.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

The Hidden Health Effects Of Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment often experience emotional and physical symptoms for years to come.
Unhappy woman's form double exposed with paint splatter effect

wundervisuals / Getty Images

 
 
By Nicole Spector
 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new, but the issue is seeing a tidal wave of recognition and attention as celebrities, co-workers and others step up to accuse Hollywood heavy weights like Harvey WeinsteinKevin Spacey and Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct. Through their stories, we’ve learned that sexual harassment can wreak havoc on its victims, and can cause not only mental health issues, but physical effects as well.

Dr. Colleen Cullen, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that for victims of sexual harassment, the most common diagnoses are depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“An experience [with sexual harassment] can either trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety that are new to the person; or it can exacerbate a previous condition that may have been controlled or resolved. Patients may also see a worsening of symptoms,” says Dr. Cullen. “Some research has found that sexual harassment early in one’s career in particular can [cause] long-term depressive symptoms.”

Someone going through or dealing with the aftermath of sexual harassment may also exhibit symptoms of PTSD, especially if the harassment leads to violence and/or assault.

“Among women who experience a sexual assault, 90 percent who experience sexual violence in the immediate aftermath exhibit symptoms of acute stress,” says Dr. Helen Wilson, a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise on the effects of trauma. “For many people, these symptoms dissipate over time through social support and coping strategies, and many people totally recover and move on; others will be so distressed that it really interferes with their work and life. It takes a certain number of symptoms to diagnose, but that’s when it can become PTSD.”

It’s Not All In Your Head; The Body Reacts, Too

Now, there are some who may counter, “Well, I can see how sexual assault can lead to such disturbances, but how can harassment be so harmful? Sounds a bit dramatic!” This thinking is deeply problematic not only because it dismisses medical science and undermines the stories of survivors, but also because it feeds the crippling doubt that so many victims face. These doubts can foster denial, which can lead to its own set of complications, particularly around physical health.

“Sometimes sexual harassment registers as a trauma, and it’s difficult for the [patient] to deal with it, so what literally happens is the body starts to become overwhelmed,” says Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, a licensed psychologist. “We call it somatizing: the mental health becomes so overwhelming one can’t process it to the point of saying ‘I have been traumatized’ or ‘I am depressed.’ Essentially, it’s a kind of denial that when experienced for a long state can turn into physical symptoms.”

These physical symptoms can run the gamut, manifesting as muscle aches, headaches, or even chronic physical health problems such as high blood pressure and problems with blood sugar.

“In the long term, it could lead to heart issues,” says Hammond.

One needn’t be in shock or denial to experience these physical effects. Hammond adds that even patients who have confronted issues with full awareness and recognize that they are anxious or depressed can experience these problems. This is because the brain and body are inextricably linked, as Dr. Wilson explains.

Physical symptoms can run the gamut, manifesting as muscle aches, headaches, or even chronic physical health problems such as high blood pressure and problems with blood sugar.

“The part of our brain that processes emotions, including stress, are among the earliest to develop, and is right next to the brain stem, which deals with involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing,” says Wilson. “When we’re stressed resources go there, which can impact cardiovascular functioning, autoimmune diseases, metabolic function, [and so on],” says Wilson. “Sometimes people think stress is in our head, but our brains are an organ like any other. It’s all very connected. Neurotransmitters found in our brains are also found in our gut. It’s a real thing: this is why we tend to get sick when we get stressed, and over time, if we’re in constant stress or if it’s too much to handle, then there are physiological consequences.”

Sexual Harassment In The Workplace: ‘A Slithering Snake’

While sexual harassment under any circumstances can wreak havoc on a victim’s health, workplace harassment is a special kind of ugly. Nannina Angioni, a labor and law employment attorney who has worked on hundreds of sexual harassment cases describes it as “slithering snake that ripples its way through a work environment causing disastrous results.”

“Employees talk of having a pit in their stomach commuting to work, having anxiety, panic attacks, inexplicable fits of crying and physical manifestations of stress: hair falling out, hives, weight gain or loss, sleeplessness and lethargy,” says Angioni.

“They may feel that they did something to make this happen or egg it on in some way,” says Cullen. “Embarrassment can be experienced, a fear over other people finding out. Also, particularly early in their career, a person may doubt their ability, and wonder if they weren’t only hired because of their sexual value. They may question their achievements, and if they’re young or new to a field, they may ask, ‘Is this just what it’s like in this field?’ If they have nothing to compare it to, they may not have an idea of what is normal or what the appropriate recourse is.”

Here’s where the research Cullen mentioned earlier, which shows that sexual harassment early in one’s career can have long-term mental health effects comes into play. Wendy L. Patrick, a prosecutor and educator, has personally seen depression “last up to a decade” for women who experienced sexual abuse in the workplace, and notes that it can affect their performance in subsequent jobs.

Surely the (often silent) suffering of the victim mustn’t be underestimated, but it’s important to note that when one employee is being abused, their colleagues may also be afflicted. After all, it’s stressful to keep a secret, especially one that is so clearly damaging.

“When employees are questioned about the effect of harassment [on a colleague], you always hear about some physical manifestation of stress. They can’t sleep. They have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom,” says Angioni. “It’s really hard: You’re watching someone on your team suffer, or even wither away as they just try to get through the days.”

When To Help A Hurting Colleague — And How To Get Treatment

A victim of sexual harassment may ultimately want to speak out against their abuser, but it’s important for others to speak up, too, even ahead of the victim. If you know something, say something; but don’t gossip —that only escalates the problem and further endangers the victim.

“When people suspect something is going on and don’t speak out, the harassment evolves,” says Angioni. “I counsel companies and employees to go about it tactfully. If you think something is happening, don’t talk about it at the water cooler, or in front of the victim. Don’t send snarky emails or texts. Talk to someone in management. Help without creating a further problem. If there is not an HR person, find a trusted supervisor. If you really can’t find someone you trust, you contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.”

If you know something, say something; but don’t gossip — that only escalates the problem and further endangers the victim.

For the victim, speaking out may be challenging, and in some cases they may just really not be willing or able to do so. It’s important that both victims and their supporters understand that while silence isn’t ideal, it may be what works for the coping or healing process at the moment. But only if you’re talking to a mental health professional about what is going on. This cannot be emphasized enough: If you are being sexually harassed you mustn’t keep this a secret; it is literally toxic to your health.

“Some victims will never report abuse and they have that right,” says Dr. Hammond. “It’s a case by case thing and sometimes there’s a reason for staying silent — if you feel your safety is threatened, or if you’re literally on the verge of having an emotional breakdown and will be unable to function. But you need to reach out to someone.”

If you’re worried about the cost of visiting a professional, or if you’re wary to begin therapy, Dr. Hammond recommends calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Services are free and include confidential support from a trained staff member, help finding a local resources if needed, counseling, referrals, information on your local laws regarding harassment and information about medical concerns.

 

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com

%d bloggers like this: