Is It Stress or Anxiety?
“I’m so stressed”
“My anxiety is really bad right now”
“This is really stressing me out”
“I can’t control my anxiety”
“I have so much stress in my life”
These are phrases we hear as counselors all the time, and I assume you hear and/or say these phrases often in your own life. We often hear the words “stress” and “anxiety” used interchangeably, but have you ever stopped to think about what these words actually mean? They sound similar -- and they are to a degree -- but the clinical definitions of them show them to be two different experiences.
Let’s start with some definitions:
These definitions teach us an important and often overlooked fact - stress is not what happens to us, but rather how we react to what is happening to us. Undergoing stress most often results from external events/stressors rather than internal experiences. So for example, the sweaty palms, shaky hands, fast heartbeat, stomach discomfort, and anxious thoughts that come and go in relation to what’s going on in your life are probably related to your experience of stress rather than chronic anxiety.
On the other hand, if you are regularly experiencing these symptoms and can’t always identify an external trigger, then perhaps there is something more going on than just stress. While stress is typically a short term experience that dissipates when the stressor has been removed, anxiety is internal and ongoing.
Now that we’ve defined what stress and anxiety are, maybe you’re thinking,
“Yep, that sounds like me” or
“Now, I’m stressed that I might have anxiety!”
Here’s the thing -- stress is normal. It’s a process designed by God to help us be productive and stay safe. Many scholars even say that a little bit of stress is good for you! Think about it -- let’s say a bear is chasing you, and you need to escape. It’s an AMAZING thing that the appropriate hormones are released so that you can all of a sudden be faster and stronger to run away!
But, let’s be real. Most of us aren’t needing all of that adrenaline and cortisol so that we can escape from a hungry bear on a daily basis. In modern society, we are faced with stressors like an upcoming job interview or caring for a sick loved one. Stressors in our fast-paced world seem to come without end, and we usually face not one but many stressors at a time. The result is that we go about our days in a chronic state of stress response, which ends up harming us more than it helps us.
Fortunately, stress can be managed with the right strategies and a little bit of work. Here are a few research-based practices that can help you take on the stressors in your life with confidence:
As for anxiety, it can also be managed and treated with the right kind of help. The stress management strategies listed above can be very effective in coping with anxiety, however seeking professional help is always the best option. Anxiety disorders have different roots, and it’s important for a licensed clinician to perform assessments to help determine appropriate treatment. Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, and meeting with a trained therapist can open the door to finding the best treatment plan for you.
At Bethel Haven, we are primarily offering TeleMental Health services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to promote the safety of our staff as well as our clients. Even though sessions are not taking place in the office, we are still taking new clients at this time and would love to support you as you combat stress and anxiety and work to stay well mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! If you feel that the time is right for you to start seeing a therapist, give us a call!
Ending the Stigma
stig·ma (noun) “a mark of stain or discredit"
are often still viewed as “dangerous”, “bad”, or just “different”. These attitudes lead to a myriad of problems for individuals with mental disorders (diagnosed or undiagnosed), including:
-decreased likelihood of seeking help
-rejection by friends, family, community
-the list goes on…
At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness. We believe that there is no shame in struggling with your mental health, and we want our clients (and community!) to know that they are not alone in their struggle. The media often portrays mental illness as something uncommon, scary, and shameful, however this could not be further from the truth! Statistics and research tell us that almost half of the population in the U.S. will experience a mental illness at some point in life. Think about it--one out of every two people that you know has, had, or will have a mental health disorder in his or her lifetime. If this is true, then mental illness is much more common and relatable than we are led to believe.
"At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness."
As a Christian counselor, I believe that the enemy of your soul wants to convince you that you are alone in your suffering. He wants to instill in you that no one else struggles in the same way you do, and that there’s something uniquely “wrong” with you. In the area of mental illness, I think this can be especially true. The enemy wants you to sink your teeth into the lie that you have to face mental health issues on your own. He wants you to believe that you must remain in the darkness of isolation. However, when you bring your fears, your shame, and yes, even your mental illness into the light of safe community and welcomed vulnerability, you will begin to walk in freedom. What is hidden has power, so bringing your struggle into the light destroys the hold of shame--including the shame that results from stigma.
As a therapist, I find it immensely fulfilling when clients reject the shame they once felt regarding their diagnoses and begin to advocate for themselves and others with mental illness. Have you been hiding your mental illness? Do you find yourself afraid to open up to anyone about your diagnosis? Perhaps, you have opened up before, and been met with disdain, disbelief, and discrimination. If this is the case, my heart hurts for you. I am so sorry that stigma has harmed you. Please know…
There is no real shame in your diagnosis.
You are not alone.
You are valuable and loved.
You are worthy of care.
If you feel ready to seek counseling at this time, give us a call to see if one of our counselors is a good fit for you! We are currently offering counseling services via TeleMental Health during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure the health and safety of our staff and clients.
Give Yourself Some Grace
Like anyone else with a social media account, I have been seeing a lot of people sharing the things they have been doing during the pandemic. Some have been learning new things, others have been taking up new hobbies, and some people have been reaching out to someone different every day. It’s kind of exhausting to think about.
When we post on social media, we like to share the pretty side of things. With my work with my clients, I have seen something else. We are all feeling pressure to be productive, even while we are feeling like we have less energy than ever before, and we’re being hard on ourselves for not using this time the way we feel we “should” be.
Do you find yourself wondering why you’ve been feeling unmotivated even though you have more time on your hands? You’re stressed. Whether you’re still working or not, whether you’re caring for a family or not, and whether you’ve been personally affected by Coronavirus or not, you’re stressed.
I know you’ve heard it already, but we are experiencing “unprecedented times.” What this means for our brains is that they are working overtime to try and understand what’s going on and how we are going to adjust. Every day the news says something different, we hear new numbers, and we have to make changes to our expectations about what life is going to look like for the foreseeable future. This takes a lot of mental effort and energy that we might otherwise have devoted to other tasks.
During this pandemic, a lot of us have been experiencing a constant state of fight or flight. We know there is a threat to our livelihood and we don’t know what to do about it. So we remain in this limbo stage as we wait to see what is going to happen next.
When we are this stressed for such an extended period of time, it takes a real toll on our brains and bodies. When we are anxious, upset, or worried about something, our bodies release a stress hormone called Cortisol. Usually, this is a short-lived experience, and the cortisol helps us know that there is a threat so we can solve the problem quickly. What looks different right now is that we’ve been stressed out for almost 2 months. When we are exposed to cortisol at such levels for such a lengthy amount of time, it can result in symptoms like anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, and memory and concentration impairment, as shared in this article by the Mayo Clinic.
Do you feel drained? Do you feel less motivated? Are you having trouble paying attention to things? Are you feeling anxious or trying to numb certain feelings by zoning out, spending all your free time watching Netflix? Are you having trouble sleeping or getting more headaches? These are symptoms of extended stress.
The bottom line here is that your body is doing what it knows to do in order to cope with all the uncertainty we're experiencing. Being upset with yourself for not being as productive as you used to be is going to feed the cycle. So I’m going to invite you to try something else.
Give yourself some compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Treat yourself with grace. You’re going through something tough and that last thing you need is to beat yourself up for how you’re handling it. The next time you catch yourself thinking negatively about your response to this crisis, try to pause and thank your body for taking care of you.
It’s doing its best.
So are you.
As you may already know, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month - a month in which we hope to:
Help. [verb] make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or resources. At Bethel Haven, we provide help in numerous ways. One way we help our community is by making quality counseling services easy to access and afford. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the generosity of donors to help us provide counseling services on a sliding scale. What does this look like as far as numbers go? 65% of our clients pay less than half of what it costs to provide our services. This is an unbelievable blessing to many of our clients who might not have been able to receive counseling services otherwise.
Hope. [noun] desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment. Don’t we all need an extra dose of hope these days? Sometimes life can feel so bleak that it seems like it will never get any better. Bethel Haven counselors seek to be holders and givers of hope for our clients when they find themselves in these hard places. We hold hope for our clients when they feel stuck and hopeless and have no strength to believe. We also seek to give hope through care, compassion, and effective, research based treatments and practices. Our counselors are not here to give you mere advice, but rather we do our best to help you see the good, make peace with the bad, and take hold of a hope-filled future.
Healing. [verb] to become free from injury or disease, to return to a sound state, to make well again, to restore to health. This is the heart of Bethel Haven—we want to see our community made well and restored to mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The world we live in is broken, therefore people experience brokenness. Brokenness exists in individuals, families, marriages, friendships, workplaces, and the community. Our counselors are dedicated to facilitating our clients’ paths from brokenness to healing, to being restored to health.
How can you be involved? For starters, pray. Pray for our leadership, our counselors, and our clients. Pray for God to provide the funds we need to continue our ministry of bringing help, hope, and healing. You can also give. As mentioned above, Bethel Haven would not be able to exist without the generosity of our community. For more information on how to get involved in this way, check out our Haven of Hearts.
Reach out if you need us. Do you feel stuck? Do you feel the weight of the brokenness in and around you? Do you find maintaining your mental, emotional, and spiritual to be a difficult task? Give us a call, and start your own journey to help, hope, and healing!
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing