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Am I Just Stressed Out or Is It Anxiety?



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A presentation at work. A family gathering. Attending your child’s ball game. 

For some, any of these situations is cause for pride, excitement, and joy. For others, these situations can cause a myriad of symptoms and feelings ranging from sweaty palms to absolute gut-wrenching nausea and sickness.

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger. 

An automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation. These reactions are caused by the chemical norepinephrine, the “fight or flight” chemical in your brain. It’s not always a bad thing. In moderation, anxiety helps you stay alert, stay focused, pushes you into action, and helps you to solve problems. Only when anxiety becomes overwhelming, when it stops being functional and interferes with your relationships and activities, then it crosses the line from productive, normal anxiety into the territory of an anxiety disorder.

If you are struggling from some of the symptoms here, it may be worth talking to your doctor to determine if your anxiety-related symptoms may be signs of an anxiety-related disorder (I am in no way offering advice that is diagnostic in nature)

So how does someone manage the stress and struggles that lead to anxiety and panic attacks?

Here are some suggestions on how to challenge the negative thoughts that come along with anxiety-related thinking and panic attacks as well as how to practice self-care (adapted from and my own information added in where appropriate).


  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Stomach upset or dizziness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Challenge negative thoughts

  • Write down your worries. Keep a pad and pencil on you, or type on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. When you experience anxiety, write down your worries. Writing down is harder work than simply thinking them, so your negative thoughts are likely to disappear sooner.
  • Double your positives. For every negative that you write down, put down two positives. You will be less likely to see your negatives as big when you’ve doubled the amount of space taken up by the positives. Sounds silly, I’m sure, but it really helps. Post this list somewhere you can see it regularly.
  • Create an anxiety worry period. Choose one or two 10 minute “worry periods” each day, time you can devote to anxiety. During your worry period, focus only on negative, anxious thoughts without trying to correct them. The rest of the day, however, is to be designated free of anxiety. When anxious thoughts come into your head during the day, write them down and “postpone” them to your worry period (to be done when you write down your worries and double your positives – see how this all works together?).
  • Accept uncertainty. Unfortunately, worrying about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable—it only keeps you from enjoying the good things happening in the present. Learn to accept uncertainty and not require immediate solutions to life’s problems. Sounds like I’m making this easier than it is, but truly, force yourself to repeatedly think of things as “it’s okay for it to be this way,” whether you believe it or not, and there will be things that occur that really WILL be okay this way. Sometimes. We aren’t perfec

Take care of yourself

  • Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
  • Adopt healthy eating habits. Start the day right with breakfast and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more anxious.
  • Exercise regularly. We all know this one and hate to hear it (or rather, to see it.) Exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, so try to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep a night. Just before bed would be a good time to have your worry period and double the positives. Getting the worries out and forcing yourself to think of all of the positives is conducive to good sleep.


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Amanda Dutton has a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix and is licensed in professional counseling in the states of Georgia and Colorado.

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