The link between stress and anxiety
Deadlines. Tests. Long lines at the grocery store. There’s no doubt that life is full of everyday stresses.
In small doses, stress is vital to our wellbeing and can serve a useful purpose. In the presence of danger, stress signals the body to react.
“A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear,” according to the Harvard Health Publishing website. “This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety.”
However, when stress becomes chronic, the mechanisms intended to protect the body may become a danger to it.
The impact of long-term stress
“In contemporary society, individuals are stressed for long periods of time,” Carolyn Mazure, PhD, a psychologist and director of Women’s Health Research told the Yale Medicine newsletter. “In this situation, stress no longer serves its initial biological function of alerting us; its function becomes corrupted when it is chronic or prolonged and you cannot turn it off.”
Constant exposure to stress may cause a snowballing array of physical and emotional problems. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.”
According to an article in WebMD, chronic stress can lead to:
- “Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon”
Beyond physical symptoms, chronic stress can impact our mental health. According to the WebMD article, “Ongoing, chronic stress … can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.”
The link between stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are intrinsically linked.
“Anxiety shares the same physical and biological elements as stress,” according to an article on Yale Medicine’s website.
Further, anxiety and stress typically may have similar symptoms according to the APA: “insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.”
Yet, there are differences between stress and anxiety.
“Stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a work deadline or a fight with a loved one or long-term, such as being unable to work, discrimination, or chronic illness,” according the APA. “Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor.”
In other words, if your situation improves and the cause of stress is no longer present, but you are still experiencing symptoms, you may want to talk with your healthcare provider.
Can I get rid of stress?
Because stress is a fact of life, it’s hard to eliminate, but you can take steps to help you manage it in a healthy and productive way.
First, it’s important to identify the situations, problems or individuals that cause you stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may want to consider making a list or keeping a journal to help you identify the things that cause you stress.
Once you’ve identified the stressors in your life, you’ll need to find techniques for coping with them. Physical activity is a potential way to reduce stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). In addition to stress reduction, regular exercise has been shown to have multiple mental health benefits.
“Many people benefit from practices such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, meditation or being in nature. Set aside time for yourself,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Get a massage, soak in a bubble bath, dance, listen to music, watch a comedy — whatever helps you relax.”
Long term, the Mayo Clinic suggests a healthy lifestyle. In addition to a regular exercise regime, eating a healthy diet and getting a good night’s sleep regularly can help you manage stress.
Cultivating a more positive attitude toward the challenges you face can help too. When faced with a stressful situation, experts suggest reframing the problem to focus on a more positive perspective. For example, rather than fuming over a traffic jam, allow yourself to pause and enjoy a moment of stillness or the music on the radio.
“Stress won’t disappear from your life. And stress management needs to be ongoing,” according to Mayo Clinic. “But by paying attention to what causes your stress and practicing ways to relax, you can counter some of the bad effects of stress and increase your ability to cope with challenges.”
When to talk to a professional about anxiety
If your stress won’t go away when the source of stress has gone, it may be time to talk with a healthcare professional. Likewise, if your symptoms make it impossible to get through your day, is making you unproductive or if you just feel overwhelmed or miserable, contact your healthcare provider.
There are many effective treatments for anxiety. The APA suggests that the two most common treatments are talk therapy and/or medication. Some people will use both therapies at the same time to manage their anxiety symptoms.
“One of the most widely used therapeutic approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns related to the anxiety,” according to the APA. “Another potential treatment is exposure therapy, which involves confronting anxiety triggers in a safe, controlled way in order to break the cycle of fear around the trigger.”
Types of medications that can be used to help patients manage their anxiety symptoms can include anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and/or beta-blockers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
For patients who have tried multiple medications and dosages without success, they may be a good candidate for the GeneSight test. The GeneSight Psychotropic test analyzes how your genes may affect your outcomes with medications commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other mental health conditions. The results of the GeneSight test are intended to supplement other clinical factors considered by a clinician during a comprehensive medical assessment.
Stress and anxiety can have a detrimental impact on your health and wellbeing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Identifying your stressors, developing coping strategies and talking to your healthcare provider when needed can help you develop resilience and regain your quality of life.
For more information on anxiety-related topics, please read these blog posts:
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.