Are stress, Anxiety and Worry the same? You hear a lot about the 3, they are more and more used interchangeably in sentences. But the truth is they are not the same. Truth is too, you probably experience one of them (or more) at least once in any given day.
And the following figures probably don’t help much in differentiating them, other than realizing that they are very common:
- 1 in 13 people globally suffer from anxiety (according to WHO figures)
- 38% of the respondent to a recent study say they worry every day. But yet, 85% of the time, our worries have a positive outcome.
- More people feel stressed – 72% of UK adults feel they are more stressed than 5 year ago.
So what is the difference between them? Let’s look at their physiological response.
What is stress?
Stress is a physiological response to an external threat, or perceived threat. You can read more about Stress in my previous post.
Stress reactions start in the amygdala, a gland below the neocortex, which regulates your emotional reactions. When it detects any threat, it activates a Defense mechanism by sending a signal to the brain, which starts a reaction process of cascade reactions in your brain and body.
In summary, stressful reactions trigger a whole lot of physical reactions designed to increase your survival chances in the short term. But longer term, you’ll move from filling wired to feeling tired! (don’t remain in overdrive!!!). This is also referred to as Chronic Stress.
So take it this way: Stress in the short term is good news , in the long term it’s now.
What is Worry?
Our brain has amazing ways to trigger thoughts which go around and around and around, and sometimes it never stops. I know because I am a “worrier”! Don’t get me wrong, sometime you have absolutely valid reasons to worry, but most of the time, worries are unjustified. Read more about Worry in my previous post.
Repetition here is important, as this is what separate worry from a singular “annoying thought”, where you move forwards. Worries will be repeating these thoughts, getting stuck on them. You never move forwards.
Single thought = Move forwards | Worries = you never move forwards
That said worry can have an important role in our lives, but only if it leads to changes.
What can you do? Recite a mantra, write your worries down on a piece of paper (and trash it!), schedule a block of “worry time” each day, or wear a rubber band around your wrist that you snap every time you catch yourself getting lost in worries—anything that will help you to “reset” your brain and derail overthinking is a good option
What is anxiety?
Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress). It is very similar to stress, except that there is no external threats! you make it up.
This is why we often associate stress and anxiety. A lot of our stress today is coming from “perceived threats” rather than real ones, we sometimes make them completely up in mind. Same with worry, excessive worry can lead to anxiety.
Anxiety can build up into a full blown crisis because the logical part of the brain is not able to talk to the amygdala (the emotional regulator). If you experienced a Panic Attack before, you experienced one type of anxiety in full blown mode. Panic attack are scary and impact your ability to breath properly. Most of the time, you have no idea what triggered it, and for the right reason, there was no or little reason.
I experienced a panic attack years ago. I was convinced I was having an other stroke. This was not pleasant for sure.
Anxiety also takes many forms: Separation Anxiety, Evaluation anxiety, Uncertainty, Agoraphobia, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and GAD (General Anxiety Disorder).
If you suffer from anxiety, you definitely want to limit your intake of sugar, alcohol and coffee because stimulant could trigger a physiological response.
It is important to remember that experiencing anxiety is very different from having an anxiety disorder. This apply also to worry and stress. Watch out, if you realize look back 2 weeks and realize you’ve been experiencing any of those very regularly on daily basis, then it might be time to take some action.