Being abroad has a direct impact on your mental state. For most expats this can fluctuate from time to time – one moment you´re confident and you feel fully at ease and happy with the life you are experiencing, and at another moment you might miss home, your friends, and family or just that typical dish that you love. In some people, this may cause stress or anxiety.
In our everyday vocabulary, we often use being anxious and being stressed as synonyms. While many of the symptoms are present in both diagnostic categories, they are actually two concepts with very different origin and functioning.
What are stress and anxiety?
Anxiety is an indicator that alerts our psychological system that there is something in our life approach that is not working as we would like or as it should be: an unrewarding job, a relationship that does not work, a choice that we dislike … It is a psychological reaction that often appears when we silence (consciously or unconsciously) the message that we must change certain aspects, or we ignore it and do nothing even though we realize that need.
However, many times we do not understand what is behind anxiety. This happens because there is a whole series of beliefs that make some kind of internal screen that blocks our visibility.
Thus, we could understand anxiety as the last way that our psychological system must attend to it. “Either you take care of me the good way or you will have to take care of me the bad way.”
Stress on the other hand, is a reaction of the exhaustion of our psychological system, which is produced by maintaining too long a state of hyperactivation to face particularly demanding situations. It can happen either because we do not have enough time to rest and defuse all the tension, or because we do not have enough resources to deal with the situation.
In an automotive metaphor, it would be like wanting to climb a mountain pass always in first gear. While the first gear is the one that powers very strongly forward, if we keep driving in it too much, we will burn the engine.
Thus, generally, it is easier to detect the origin of stress than that of anxiety.
Let’s look at some of the main differences between anxiety and stress, which will allow you to identify them and know how to address them:
The main emotions
- In anxiety, the fundamental emotion is fear and, if not addressed correctly, it expands vertiginously through the different areas of the person’s life. When it is advanced, it even reaches the paradoxical state of fear of fear. There are several anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic attack disorder, agoraphobia … In all of them, the common denominator is this emotion.
- Stress, on the other hand, is fundamentally governed by worry and frustration, and fear is usually more diffuse or generic.
In the mind
- Anxiety is usually more focused on the future, on everything negative that can happen, since it is nourished by the anticipation of situations with a markedly negative or catastrophic tone. This tends to make us avoid more and more situations, which in turn further increases fear, and therefore anxiety.
- Stress tends to be more focused on the present, since the unapproachable situation is happening right now and there is a feeling that we cannot deal with the demands it imposes on us.
- Anxiety instead depends more on internal factors, thoughts and emotions that come from the anticipation of the person.
- Although it is not always easy to distinguish between external and internal factors since they usually feed each other, stress is usually caused by external factors, that is, factors beyond our control.
- Anxiety is often tremendously hard and disabling, but also highly secure at the level of physical health. In the middle of a panic attack, we may have the impression that we are going to die of a heart attack. On the other hand, if they do an electrocardiogram at that time, it comes out perfect.
- Stresscan have more dangerous physical implications since it activates the autonomic nervous system, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the hypothalamic-adrenal axis, and metabolism. Stress is a neuro-immuno-endocrine response, influenced by biological, cognitive, environmental, and personality factors.
How can we address stress and anxiety?
Stress usually goes away when the stressful situation goes away, but anxiety can persist longer. If symptoms persist, it would be necessary to consult a coach or psychologist.
If you feel anxiety or stress and you want to talk to our doctors to learn more about this topic and what the next steps could be in improving your situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
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