by Kim Johnson
Everyone experiences worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day. According to statistics, nearly 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder. Yet, if asked which you were experiencing — worry, stress or anxiety — would you know the difference? They actually aren’t the same. The following is information to help you 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. It tends to be repetitive and/or obsessive thoughts. Simply put, worry happens only in your mind, not in your body.
How does worry work?
It seems counterintuitive, but worry has an important function in our lives. When we think about an uncertain or unpleasant situation — such as being unable to pay the rent, or performing well at a job — our brains become stimulated. When we worry, our brain calms down. This is also likely to cause us to problem-solve or take action, both of which are positive things. In reality, worrying is a way for your brain to handle problems in order to keep you safe. The problems arise when we get so stuck thinking about a problem it stops us from being functional.”
Three things to help your worries:
- 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.
TIP: Worry is helpful only if it leads to change, not if it turns into obsessive thoughts.
Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Stress is an internal, physical 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. In other words, stress is a reaction to an environmental change that exceeds an individual’s resources to cope.
How does stress work?
God created us with a natural response to a threat – stress. It is a behavior response which fires up the limbic system and releases adrenaline and cortisol inside the body. This helps activate you brain and body to deal with the threat. Some symptoms of this activation include a rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, and shallow breathing. This might feel good at first like when you experience these benefits as you race to get to an appointment or meet a work deadline. But the rush most likely wore off when the situation was resolved. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when your body stays in this fight-or-flight mode nonstop. And, it’s linked to health issues like digestive problems, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.
Three things to help your stress
- Get exercise. This is a way for your body to recover from the increase of adrenaline and cortisol.
- Be clear on what is or isn’t within your control. 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.
TIP: Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives.
Psalm 42:5-6: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the result. Anxiety has a mental component (worry) and a physical response (stress). This means we experience anxiety in both our mind and our body. In essence, anxiety is what happens when you combine worry with stress.
How does anxiety work?
As previously indicates, stress is a natural response to a threat. And, anxiety is the same thing … except there is no threat. It’s like responding to a false alarm. For example, one day when you get to work, your co-worker looks at you funny. You don’t know why so you starting to think you’ve done something wrong or you’re your boss is on the warpath. These thoughts have no basis but your blood gets pumping and the adrenaline rushes. You slide into a state of fight or flight – but there is no real threat. It’s all in your mind. One note here is to know that there is a difference between feeling anxious (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.
Three things to help your anxiety
- Limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake. Because anxiety is physical, any stimulants may have a significant impact.
- Focus on your toes. Wiggle them. This kind of refocusing can break the anxiety cycle and calm you down.
- Use your senses to distract yourself if you recognize you’re sliding into anxiety. Listen to music, take a brisk walk for five minutes, look at a calming picture or do something with your hands. Sometimes talking doesn’t help and any of these actions will.
TIP: Anxiety happens in your mind AND your body so trying to think your way out of it won’t help.
Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
So how does all of this apply to you? Going through a divorce is considered one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience. Thus, understanding the emotions of worry, stress and anxiety is helpful in learning to handle and cope with them. 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 by helping us move forward. But research shows even without going through a divorce most of us are too worried, too stressed and too anxious anyway. The good news is there are simple (not easy) first steps to help regulate your symptoms: Get enough sleep, eat healthy, and move your body.
If, however, you find you are unable to manage these emotions, don’t be afraid to seek medical help through counseling or medication. While you should never become dependent upon medication to avoid feelings, they can be a useful resource to help you get through some of the worst worry for your situation.
Get alone with Jesus. Only he can comfort your weary soul.