On edge? Get some fresh air!

While stress has been making headlines as a workplace health issue for several decades now, we’re hearing more and more about anxiety and, more recently, anguish at work. While for many, these words evoke more or less the same thing, they actually describe three distinct phenomena, all potentially harmful.


Probably the best-known of these ailments, stress is in fact a physiological reaction triggered by a disruptive situation of variable duration. It could be, for example, a major project to be delivered on a tight deadline, a conflictual relationship with a colleague, financial difficulties, a difficult break-up or environmental factors such as a noisy workplace.

Faced with this kind of situation, which it sees as a threat, the body goes into “defense” mode (accelerated heart rate, palpitations, sweating, etc.). This reaction is called stress.

It’s when the situation persists or worsens that stress becomes harmful, leading to exhaustion.


While stress is essentially a physiological reaction, anxiety is an emotional response to an anticipated or apprehended threat. It’s also known as “the fear of being afraid”.

But while it’s an emotional reaction, it can also lead to very real physiological symptoms, from heart palpitations and muscle tension to digestive and sleep disorders.

Under normal circumstances anxiety is a short-lived phenomenon that subsides once you’ve dealt with the threat or realized that there really isn’t one. But for some people, anxiety persists, often causing serious problems and interfering with their ability to function normally. These are known as anxiety disorders.


Like anxiety, anguish is an emotional reaction to an anticipated threat. Unlike anxiety, however, the anxiety attack, or “panic attack” as it is often called, is accompanied by a strong physical response.

People suffering from anxiety generally find it hard to breathe, feel a lump in their throat or stomach, and feel overwhelmed by a fear that renders them incapable of action. In short, they lose all control.

An anxiety attack is usually short-lived, lasting just a few minutes, but can be a sign of serious chronic problems when it occurs on a recurrent or even frequent basis.

Regaining self-control

There are various ways to reduce or control the effects of stress and anxiety, including:

  • Spending time outdoors;
  • Physical activity;
  • Practice relaxation or meditation;
  • Take up a hobby;
  • Healthy eating habits;
  • Good sleep hygiene;
  • Practice “letting go”;
  • Maintain positive thoughts;
  • Live in the moment.

In the case of chronic anxiety disorders, it may be useful to seek specialist help. Above all, don’t wait until you’re no longer able to carry out your daily activities, or lose interest in the things you’re passionate about, before taking action!

By Hervé Charbonneau