The Link Between Stress and Anxiety

Lindsay Knake

| 3 min read

Lindsay Knake is a brand journalist for Blue Cross Blue...

When you have long-term stress, what are the impacts on your health? Does stress contribute to anxiety?
Stress and anxiety can feel similar, and they share many of the same symptoms. Stress is typically tied to an event or task, such as planning for an event or dealing with a family emergency. Chronic stress is stress that remains with an ongoing situation.
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread or uneasiness. It may occur as a reaction to stress, or you may have the symptoms without understanding where the feeling is coming from.
Long-term stress can contribute to anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. A stressful event such as a project at work or a family emergency may be contained, and stress resolves when the situation is over. However, a difficult relationship with your boss or ongoing family caretaking responsibilities can contribute to anxiety over time.
Not everyone who deals with chronic stress will develop anxiety. It depends in part on genetics and your own experiences. People who have had adverse childhood experiences or trauma at any age are more likely to have anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. Experiencing racism, ableism, and prejudice are factors that also can lead to adverse mental health and chronic stress.
Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are likely caused by genetic and environmental factors and can cause anxiety regardless of stress, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

What are the symptoms of stress and anxiety?

When your brain recognizes a threat, your body produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to give you a boost to get through a difficult experience. Among other effects, adrenaline increases heart rate, and cortisol slows systems such as the immune and digestive systems. These hormones cause many differences. Over time, if your flight-or-fight system does not have a chance to rest, you may experience chronic stress or anxiety. 
Stress and anxiety share many of the same symptoms:
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle tension
  • Digestive problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability or anger
  • Weakened immune system
Anxiety can also create brain fog, a sense of doom, and lead to bouts of depression.

How do I treat stress versus anxiety?

The steps to managing stress and anxiety are straightforward, but not necessarily easy:
  • Consistent sleep
  • Regular exercise
  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Limited alcohol and caffeine
  • Talking to loved ones and/or a therapist
It is important to remember not all anxiety is the same. Anxiety from a disorder like OCD, for example, needs a different approach with a treatment like exposure and response prevention.
If you are struggling with stress, chronic stress, or anxiety, a mental health professional can help.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:
PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.
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