Stress and Anxiety—What’s the Difference and Why You Should Care

Stress and Anxiety—What’s the Difference and Why You Should Care

Currently, we are constantly barraged with external factors that cause us to react emotionally and physically—Covid and all of the things that come with it from home schooling, hybrid schooling, masks, working from home, and on and on, politics, climate change with its fires and hurricanes. The list is practically endless. 

Sometimes, I have trouble identifying exactly what I am feeling.  I can’t tell you how many times that I say to myself “What is going on with me?  Why do I feel so badly?”  Is what I am feeling normal or appropriate, given what's going on?  I might label it stress.  Or worry? Or is it anxiety?  We seem to use the terms stress and anxiety interchangeably.  Does it matter?

Actually, it does matter!  Understanding the difference between stress and anxiety, and where worrying fits into the equation is important.  When we understand how they show up for us physically and emotionally then we can help to manage them when they do manifest, or even head them off at the pass.  The distinctions are not that easy to understand, and often the symptoms may look similar, which is why we can confuse them.  I had to sort it out for myself so that I could try to lay it out in simple terms for both you and me!

First let me say that some level of worry, stress and anxiety is normal and expected.  Hoping or expecting to live completely worry, stress and anxiety-free lives is unrealistic and could lead to stress and anxiety! 

OK.  So what is worrying and where does it fit in.  Worry is what happens when our minds are focused on negative thoughts.  “Worry tends to be repetitive, obsessive thoughts,” said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif., and the author of “The Stress-Proof Brain” (2017). “It’s the cognitive component of anxiety.” Unlike stress and anxiety, worry occurs in your mind, and not in your body.  According to Luana Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, worry actually has an important function.  Worry can activate our problem-solving capabilities so that we can take action to address the source of the worry.   “Worry is a way for your brain to handle problems in order to keep you safe,” Dr. Marques explained. “It’s only when we get stuck thinking about a problem that worry stops being functional.”

Some ideas to help us manage worry:

  • When you notice that you are worrying about something, consciously spend time and energy to focus on coming up with a solution to or resolution to what it is that you are worrying about. 
  • Write.  Writing things down helps to process through whatever it is that you may be worried about.

What is stress then, and how is it different than worrying.  Simply put, stress is a physical response to something going on externally. When the brain receives a signal that we are threatened in some way, a chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, are released into the body to prepare the body’s “fight or flight” response. Millions of years ago, this process saved our lives in the face of physical danger from predators, etc.

Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, a Yale Medicine psychologist and director of Women’s Health Research at Yale says that “In contemporary society, individuals are stressed for long periods of time.  In this situation, stress no longer serves its initial biological function of alerting us; its function becomes corrupted when it is chronic or prolonged and you cannot turn it off.” 

Constant exposure to stress can lead to headaches, digestive issues, chest pain, issues with sleep, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Stress has also been linked to a weakened immune system, which can lead to catching colds and other infections, and potentially to auto-immune diseases.  

So, how do we manage stress?  Annoying though it is, the best, most effective ways to mange stress are the things that we all know:

  • Exercise—regular physical activity generates chemicals and hormones that combat stress and help the body to normalize from the physical effects of stress.
  • Eat a clean, nutritious diet with minimal processed foods.
  • Get enough quality sleep.
  • Adaptogens - plants that help your body reduce stress

So, worrying happens in the brain, and stress occurs in the body.  What about anxiety.  Anxiety has both a mental and a physical component.  Dr. Marques said, “anxiety is what happens when you’re dealing with a lot of worry and a lot of stress.”  Some amount of anxiety is normal because we all have issues that cause worry and that we all have stressors.  Anxiety becomes an issue we continue to react mentally and physically when the source of worry or stress is no longer present.  If anxiety persists, our emotional and physical state can begin to interfere with our day-to-day lives, work and relationships and can become a more serious anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders affect a staggering 40 million adults annually.

What can we do to try to minimize anxiety?  Of course, reducing worry and stress, which feed both the mental and physical aspects of anxiety, is critical.  A couple of other things to help to reduce anxiety:

Again-eat regular, healthy meals with minimal processed foods.

Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.  Adding depressants like alcohol and stimulants like sugar and caffeine can exacerbate anxiety. 

And use botanicals such as Rhodiola Rosea, Mimosa Tree Bark or Schisandra Fruit.

Michelle Alejandra Silva, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Connecticut Latino Behavioral Health System recommends that we engage in activities that require focus and mindfulness.  Activities like journaling, painting, meditating can help us to be in the present and help to ground us, and so help to manage anxiety. 

I, like many of my patients, and many of our IN: users, also take IN:PEACE regularly to help with managing stress and anxiety.  IN:PEACE has many herbal ingredients, including Wolfporia Extensa, Mimosa Tree Bark and Lilly Bulb, that are powerful stress and anxiety reducers. IN:PEACE won’t change or eliminate the worries of Covid or the political climate, but it can help to manage the resulting stress and anxiety that we may be experiencing! 

Breath, eat well, get some quality sleep, and add IN:PEACE to your stress and anxiety-reducing tools to help to weather whatever comes your way.

Be Well!


#stress #anxiety #worry #yaleuniversity #inpeace #herbalremedies #anxietydisorder #havardmedicalschool

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