Stress, Anxiety and Depression: What’s the difference?

A woman looks pensively out the window

When talking about mental health issues, people often lump together stress, anxiety, and depression. This is inevitable since they do have a few similar characteristics. For instance, anxiety, depression, and overwhelming stress can be caused by the same factors such as environment, genetics, and major life changes. 

However, these conditions are not interchangeable. Their symptoms are distinct from each other. Also, to manage stress, all you may need is a lifestyle check. Treating anxiety and depression may require a more direct approach, using a combination of holistic and traditional methods. 

It is important to know the differences of stress, anxiety and depression to properly address and manage the root cause of each one; especially since according to the World Population Review, over 1 million Australians currently  suffer from forms of depression and anxiety.  

Stress is temporary; anxiety and depression linger.

Our body’s response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure is stress. It’s a feeling of being overwhelmed by a situation we can’t control. Some people become agitated, irritated, or have difficulty focusing. Others become restless and jump into action. Normally, this feeling is temporary. When external triggers go away, so does the stress. Long-term stress, however, can manifest through mental health issues and physical illnesses. 

Anxiety, on the other hand, is constant fear and worry that lasts for days, months, or, if left unchecked, years. It could be because of extreme worry about something specific (like giving a presentation at work or asking your boss for a raise) or a general fear of several things (like being put on the spot or people judging you). Those with ongoing anxiety just live in a constant state of worrying and overthinking.

The trigger for depression is more difficult to pinpoint; stress and anxiety are two known triggers. Generally, depression can bring about feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, a sullen mood, low self-esteem, and a loss of interest in activities that once were fun. People suffering from depression tend to withdraw from society and give up all means of self care. Untreated, like anxiety, depression can last for years. 

Try using an Amethyst crystal to ease your stress and anxiety. Amethyst relaxes your mind, calms you down, and attracts the good vibes. 

Why is stress bad for the body?

When we’re stressed, our body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This is called a “fight or flight” response. It’s the part of our body that tells us to panic and in a split second, choose to either stand and fight, or turn and run. 

Our body doesn’t know the difference between being late for work and being chased by a tiger. The body simply responds according to our stress levels. Most of the time, a little bit of stress is good. It lets us know we need to take immediate action and it prepares our body to do so with an increase in blood flow, oxygen and glucose. But when our mindset constantly amplifies stress unnecessarily, our body continues to respond to those small stresses with extreme urgency. Causing large amounts of adrenaline, cortisol and glucose to continue coursing through the body’s organs, which is not ideal. Too many stress hormones can cause adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, insomnia, weight gain and, of course, more anxiety and even depression. It’s kind of like running from a tiger, all day long - physically and emotionally exhausting! 

How do you manage these conditions?

Often, a lifestyle check is the necessary first step. See which aspects of your life negatively affect you the most. Then take decisive steps to remove yourself from these situations. Look at your health, diet, lifestyle, hobbies, work, friends, and family. What lifts you up, and what doesn’t? This can be hard, but your health is important. You may even need to seek counselling support to make these changes. The easiest one to make, if you haven’t yet, is to be more intentional in your self-care practices. 

Get enough sleep (7 to 8 hours daily), since deep sleep reduces the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. And also helps you better process stress and react to it appropriately. 

Exercise regularly to boost production of serotonin, the happy hormone. (Semi-intense exercise also helps you get better sleep.) Similarly, follow a healthy, balanced diet. 

Most importantly, talk to someone you trust. For people suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression, it is a big help even just knowing that there is a sympathetic ear ready to listen to you. It can be a friend, a family member, a healthcare professional, or even a sympathetic outsider—talking to them can give you the emotional release you need to get better. You gain new perspectives when you talk to someone. This can help take you away from anxious thoughts amid depression. 

Alternative therapies to try

There are numerous ways to treat anxiety disorders and depression. Many of these involve using complementary alternative and traditional medicine methods. See if the following tried-and-tested alternative therapies can help you:

  • Breathwork. Deep breathing exercises send calming signals to your parasympathetic nervous system (which modulates bodily functions). Not only does breathwork calm your body down; it also manages your stress responses. It lowers blood pressure, decreases anxious thoughts, and brings you to the present moment. 
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Also known as Tapping, EFT uses tapping and Talk Therapy to unblock energy flow through the body’s meridian system and change mental perception. EFT is also known for having very fast results. Try this 5-minute tapping exercise
  • Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These slow and gentle exercises release serotonin and increase oxygen levels in the body. 
  • Meditation. Certain brain functions change with regular meditation. For instance, it breaks up brain processes that aggravate depression. It also teaches you that it’s okay to acknowledge all your feelings, but you don’t have to act on all of them. Meditation helps you focus on the present moment, helping you leave anxious and depressive thoughts on the wayside. 

When managing stress, anxiety or depression, the most important thing is to understand your condition. Make small changes, to find what works best for you, and always know that it’s ok to ask for help. 

If you’re looking for support or a friendly person to talk to, go to:
Life Line:
Beyond Blue:

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