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  • Writer's pictureIntermountain Counseling

Conquering Stress and Anxiety

Proven Strategies for Mastering Your Mind and Embracing Inner Calm

A lady feeling stress free on her couch.

By Intermountain Counseling and Kelsie Weber

In these unprecedented times, we've all faced challenges that have significantly impacted our lives. The World Health Organization reports that during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a 25% increase in cases of anxiety and depression. Reflecting on the experiences people have encountered—job losses, financial pressures, fear of illness, isolation, loss of loved ones, and children adapting to online learning—it's no wonder that these numbers continue to resonate with us.

As we move forward, it's essential to acknowledge the toll these events have had on our lives and seek effective tools to manage the lingering effects. In this spirit of resilience and healing, let's explore ways to cope with and overcome the challenges we've faced together.

Living with anxiety and stress is an unfortunate reality for many people, and the consequences can be far-reaching, affecting not only one's personal well-being but also the quality of their relationships. The constant pressure and worry that come with anxiety and stress can create a range of interpersonal challenges that make it difficult for individuals to connect with others in a healthy and fulfilling way.

One of the primary ways anxiety and stress can hurt relationships is through a breakdown in communication. When an individual is preoccupied with their own worries and concerns, they may struggle to listen effectively or express themselves clearly. This can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and feelings of disconnect between partners, friends, or family members.

In addition, anxiety and stress can cause individuals to become overly dependent on their loved ones for emotional support. While it's natural to lean on others during challenging times, consistently relying on them to soothe one's anxiety can put an unhealthy strain on the relationship. Over time, this can lead to feelings of resentment or burnout, especially if the supporting partner feels their needs are being neglected.

Furthermore, anxiety and stress can impact an individual's mood and emotional stability, causing them to become irritable, impatient, or overly sensitive. These emotional shifts can create an unstable environment in relationships, making it difficult for both parties to feel secure and supported. In turn, this can breed further stress and anxiety, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Another issue that arises from living with anxiety and stress is the tendency to withdraw from social situations or avoid engaging in activities that once brought joy. This withdrawal can lead to isolation, not only for the person experiencing anxiety and stress but also for their loved ones who may feel shut out or rejected.

Ultimately, living with anxiety and stress can create a challenging landscape for relationships to thrive. It is crucial for individuals to recognize the impact their anxiety and stress may have on their connections with others and take steps to address these issues.

Okay, but what’s the difference between stress and anxiety? Read on to discover to see how they impact your life and what you can do to help!

Dealing with stress

You know that feeling. The one where you feel like you have too much on your plate or when you’re up ceaselessly worrying (often about things you can’t change). You may find yourself snapping at people you love, or becoming overwhelmed and not sure where to even begin with tackling all the things on your to-do list.

You feel this stress because of an external trigger. As soon as that stressor disappears, so does your stress. For example, you might feel the weight of an upcoming exam. As it looms closer, you feel your stress intensify. But as soon as the exam is done or work slows down, the weight of that stress is lifted. Your stress has either lessened, or it may have gone away.

Yeah, all fine and dandy but my stress isn’t feeling better.

Stress that lasts for weeks, months, or years can turn into chronic stress. This can be caused by a tough season of marriage, a highly demanding job, or something similar. A season when stress is long. Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health if gone unchecked. There are some helpful ways to learn to manage this.


Anxiety can feel similar to stress, however there might not be an external trigger. Or it might be that when the trigger goes away, your anxious feelings stay with you.

Anxiety can feel mild or intense. It can be general or it can be caused by something in particular.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common types.

This type is when you feel stressed even when there is nothing to be stressed about. You may feel anxious about going to work, driving to the store, or making dinner (when you know that there is no particular stressor behind these things – of course there may be certain instances where these examples do become stressful).

Social anxiety disorder is when you experience intense anxious feelings as you interact (or think about interacting) with other people. You might feel nervous when talking to strangers or even to people you know. Being in public areas – parks, parties, work – may cause your heart to race.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) affects those who have survived some kind of traumatic experience. War veterans, natural disaster survivors, and survivors of abuse often experience PTSD to some degree.

A Closer Look

Let’s take a closer look at an example to see the difference between stress and anxiety.

The first day of school for your kindergartener is approaching and you feel worried sick about it. What if you son doesn’t make friends? What if he doesn’t connect with his teacher? What if he misses you? What if school is really hard for him?

These thoughts and feelings are all natural. The unknown of how things will pan out for your child causes fear and worry. If these feelings begin to fade after the first few weeks of school and you see your son settle into a routine and make friends, then you can most likely call this stress.

But if these feelings continue for weeks or months, even after your son has settled in, made friends, talks about his favorite parts of his day, and likes his teacher, then perhaps these feelings are more connected to anxiety.

How to Make Stress More Manageable

There are stress and anxiety management practices that can make a difference over time. The question is, where should I start?

Here are practices you can try at home to help with stress and mild anxiety.

Do something you love or take time for yourself. Spending time doing your favorite hobby will give you a break from what is going on. It also reminds you that there are still aspects of life that bring you joy. Taking time for yourself gives you a chance recharge. It gives you space from your stressor and helps you feel like you are deliberately making the choice to care for yourself.

Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Our minds and bodies need rest to function properly. If we don’t get it regularly, we can begin to break down. Among other things, we’ll struggle to think through and handle stressful situation. Turning down the lights at night, limiting screens (especially with blue light), and practicing a nightly routine are a few helpful ways to wind down before bed.

Exercise releases endorphins (‘feel good’ hormones) into your body, and often helps you let go of the worries/frustrations of the day. It increases oxygen and blood flow to your brain – which helps with brain functioning and perspective. If you are in need of a calm, centering activity, give yoga a try. Yoga focuses on controlled breathing and on centering your mind.

Meditation encourages you to empty your mind of thoughts - including the ones that cause you stress. It causes you to slow your thoughts, focus your attention, and lower your heart rate.

But what if none of these practices help you calm down? Professional care may be the next best option for you.

Meet with a Therapist

Some people benefit more from professional treatment options than at-home options. This is especially true for those who experience higher levels of stress and anxiety.

When you are stressed, you might feel that you're being bombarded by negative thoughts from all angles or that your thoughts feel jumbled. Your therapist can help you pull apart these thoughts and see truth behind them.

Sometimes creating some space from your thoughts in an attempt to see them objectively, can help you put things in perspective and reduce some of stress. Your therapist will provide you with tools to make it easier to overcome your stress or anxiety.

One type of therapy that is particularly effective for stress and anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It involves challenging negative thoughts that may alter the way you see life. By changing the way you think, you’ll eventually change the way you perceive and respond to stressors in your life.

When something difficult happens, CBT helps you to dissect your thoughts, decide if they are true, and confront them if they are not. It helps you to see things from a different angle. Changing the way you think is not easy. It takes plenty practice. But over time, you will start to notice a difference in your thoughts.

Therapy helps most people with stress or anxiety as it allows them to express and address the feelings going on. But some people might need more than therapy alone.

For those with severe anxiety, medication may be another option. Your therapist or health provider can help you decide which option might be the best fit for you. Research has shown that combining medication with therapy has very powerful results.

Don't expect a change to occur overnight. Changing the way you feel will take time. Stress is a hard thing for anyone to deal with, especially if it is a chronic problem. Self-care techniques like meditating and taking some alone time can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Professional treatment such as therapy and medication may be necessary for more severe cases.

If you need treatment for your stress or anxiety, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free phone consultation with one of our trained therapists.

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