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Mental Health

How to Know When Stress Turns Into Anxiety

Stress is unavoidable, as hard as we might try. Having self-care days full of face masks, warm baths and good books can help alleviate or distract from the stress, but it’s never gone for good. That’s okay though, because stress is a necessary part of life, especially for college women. However, there’s a point where stress becomes not only unhealthy but unmanageable. This can be an indicator that your stress has evolved into a form of anxiety.

An easy way to recognize anxiety is the effect it has on your health and behavior. It’s not uncommon to stay up late to stress-plan your entire finals study plan, but when you find that you physically can’t sleep, that might be an indication of a bigger problem. Lack of sleep is a common symptom of anxiety, even if you don’t feel that burning worry or dread right at the forefront of your mind when trying to fall asleep. Anxiety can also manifest itself in drastically different eating habits. 

We all snap sometimes when we’re stressed, but anxiety can lead us to bouts of irritability, anger or even just avoiding people altogether. Again, these behaviors might not even be specifically related to the cause of your stress, but when that problem starts to boil into a hot, anxious mess, that problem can grab hold of any facet of your life.

Finally, there’s that all too well-known sign that your stress has gone too far, and that’s simply the difference in the way you feel. Feeling rushed or frustrated, needing to cram, all of these are normal and healthy feelings. But, when that rushed feeling turns into incessant worry or dread, the pit in your stomach is constantly telling you that you’re going to fail and your mind is ringing with “what ifs?” it’s no longer a sign of common stress.

Fortunately, even if you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, there are ways to help lighten the burden. Though any action that can draw your focus away from the source of that anxiety can help, there are several methods that might just lower that anxiety back down to healthy levels of stress.

For one, meditation can help. It sounds cheesy and vague, but taking time to focus on yourself and the world around you can help relax your mind. Sitting down, whether in silence or with calm music, reminding yourself to be calm and taking deep breaths can help bring focus to a cluttered and overwhelmed brain.

Grounding is a technique that is used worldwide to avoid anxiety attacks and bring people back to earth. Simply closing your eyes and acknowledging the sensations around you, whether that be the sound of the air conditioner or the feeling of your feet resting against the floor, can help bring you back to reality rather than let yourself be lost in a tidal wave of panic and worry.

The most tried and true method, however, is simply getting help. This isn’t necessary for every case, but it doesn’t just apply to super serious situations. Therapists are there to help you work through your problems, figure out the source of your anxiety and recommend methods that are personalized to your situation. They really do help, and, unlike what a lot of people think, going to one doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It just means you’re taking steps to solve your problems.

Everyone handles stress differently. Everyone handles anxiety differently. But, nobody deserves to feel that overwhelming dread that comes when you let stress evolve. Be on the lookout for signs that stress might be taking over and avoid falling into that cycle of worry. This too shall pass.

Sara Slaughter

South Carolina '21

Sara Slaughter is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. She enjoys musical theatre and is involved in productions on campus. She is currently bingeing Criminal Minds.
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