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Stress Increases Anxiety to Intolerable Levels

May 27, 2022 Natasha Tracy

I've recently, painfully, discovered that stress increases anxiety to interminable levels. Stress, of course, worsens one's mental health in many ways, but the way that I'm primarily feeling it is through anxiety (and probably depression; anxiety and depression being knitted together as they are). Previously, I didn't have the anxiety problems I do today, and I didn't realize just how bad anxiety could feel until this latest bout of stress increasing my anxiety.

Stress and Anxiety -- What's the Difference?

Just to be clear, while I often say, "I'm so stressed out," that's not usually what I mean. What I mean is, "I'm so anxiety-ed out." They are different things.

According to the American Psychological Association:

"Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

"People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat."1

I tend to think of anxiety as having an internal mechanism. 

On the other hand, stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as:

"the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave."2 

And while the definition above mentions internal stressors, I tend to think of stress as having an external mechanism. 

So for example, I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This means that I have a baseline of anxiety at all times about nothing. Stress, on the other hand, might happen to me when I have a tight deadline. 

Stress Increases Anxiety in Me

And as is clear from the above definitions, the effects of stress and anxiety cross into very similar territory and can affect every system of the body. As a simple example, if anxiety has raised your blood pressure and then you're under a great deal of stress, your blood pressure gets raised even higher. 

If anxiety makes you feel like crap (and it does), stress on top of anxiety makes you feel even worse.

For me, what I notice is that anxiety can make me feel awful -- my heart can race, I can sweat, I can feel like I can't breathe -- but I can work through those feelings to some semblance of normalcy. Deep breathing, centering myself, mindfulness, and other techniques do seem to fight anxiety. The same can not be said when stress starts to combine with anxiety. Then all the anxiety symptoms I feel amp up, and there seems to be nothing I can do to fight it because suddenly, they are so much bigger and stronger than they were before.

And the anxiety at that point is horrendous. It produces epic suffering. In short, stress increases anxiety to the point where I can no longer handle it.

When You Can't Handle Stress Increasing Anxiety

When I say I can't, I literally mean that. It feels like I could pull out my hair. It feels like I want to scrape off my skin. I want to self-harm. It's torture.

If this sounds like you, there are three things I can recommend:

  1. Reach out -- I know reaching out seems impossible sometimes. And I know it seems like other people might not understand what you're going through. And that may, actually, be true. But just opening up to someone about how you're feeling, why you're feeling that way, or even just having a distracting conversation can help. Hopefully, you have people in your life who can help you find focus on something else and help you with your coping skills, but even if they can't, reaching out is still worth it. 
  2. Get professional help -- If you can't handle what's happening, you likely need to get professional help. Reach out to your doctor or a therapist as soon as possible.
  3. Take anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication -- Because I know I get into these states where I'm practically frozen with anxiety, I do have medication to use as needed. If you get caught in major anxiety attacks, I recommend you get access to even a small amount of this mediation. It can help greatly. (Note there is medication that can treat anxiety on a daily basis, and that might be right for you as well.)

And here's the thing to remember: stress and anxiety ebb and flow. You might be in a huge flow at the moment, but an ebb will come; it always does. Your anxious mind will try to tell you this isn't the case. Talk back to it. Tell it that it's lying. Tell it that you know better. Focus on getting through this episode -- it won't last forever, no matter how much it feels like it will.

Sources

  1. American Association of Psychology (APA), Anxiety. Accessed May 27, 2022. 
  2. American Association of Psychology (APA) Dictionary of Psychology, Stress. American Association of Psychology (APA), Accessed May 27, 2022.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2022, May 27). Stress Increases Anxiety to Intolerable Levels, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2022/5/stress-increases-anxiety-to-intolerable-levels



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Lizanne Corbit
May, 30 2022 at 6:23 pm

I appreciate you posting this so much! Yes, nothing lasts forever and reaching out is always worth it.

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