Getting a Grip on Worry, Stress, and Anxiety

Surprisingly worry, stress, and anxiety are not the same, but you can sure find a lot of it in the world today. In fact, a 2017 study found that 3 out of 4 Americans reported feeling stressed in the last month.

This piece is from a great article that appeared in the New York Times on February 26, 2020 by Emma Pattee.

Below is a synopsis of the full article, but I encourage you to visit the link above to read the original piece.

Too worried, stressed or anxious to read the whole article?

Here’s the bottom line: Worry happens in the 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. Easy first steps to help regulate the symptoms are: Get enough sleep; eat regular, nutritious meals; and move your body.

What is worry?

Worry is when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain situations, or things that could go wrong in a repetitive, obsessive manner. Worry can be good if it leads to changes, but if you worry about something in a repetitive, obsessive manner, that is not constructive. Worry happens in your mind and stimulates our brain to problem-solve or take action. It is only when you get stuck thinking about a problem that worry stops being constructive.

What to do if you worry:

  • Give yourself a time limit to worry. When time is up, consciously redirect your thoughts
  • When you notice you are worried about something, push yourself to take the next step or to take action
  • Write down your worries. Eight to 10 minutes of writing can help calm obsessive thoughts

What is stress?

Stress is a natural (aka normal) physiological response connected to an external event. Stress needs an external stressor to activate the fight or flight response in us to deal with the threat until it is resolved. Chronic stress is when your body stays in the fight or flight mode due to an unresolved issue and can lead to health concerns.

What to do to help your stress:

  • Get exercise
  • Get clear on what you can and can’t control. Then focus on what you can control in the situation
  • Don’t compare your stress to anyone else’s stress

What is anxiety?

Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress). Remember how stress is the natural response to a threat? Anxiety is the same thing…except there is no threat. Imagine you show up to work and somebody gives you an off look. You start to have 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. Your body is in the fight or flight mode, but there is nothing to fight or run from.

What to do to help your anxiety:

  • Limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake
  • 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 won’t help. Distract yourself with your senses. Listen to music, jump rope for five minutes, or rub a piece of Velcro or velvet

Grounding Exercise

If you are feeling nervous or anxious, doing the following grounding exercise can help when you feel like you’ve gone too far into your thoughts and feel like you’ve lost control of your surroundings.

  • Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Slowly look around you and find…
    • 5 things you can see
    • 4 things you can touch
    • 3 things you can hear
    • 2 things you can smell (or 2 smells you like)
    • 1 emotion you feel

Seek Assistance

Bottom line is that if your worry, stress, or anxiety is affecting your work life, personal life, or relationships, find a professional to talk to. As military members and their families, we have a lot of free resources available for this kind of help. Seek them out. Visit our Common Questions About Counseling Page for more information.