Often people ask: are stress and anxiety the same?
Personally, I find it curious, why are people asking such a question and what is it that they really want?
Probably, they ask because they or someone whom they know suffers from anxiety and there is a desire to help.
So how can the answer to the original question lead to this outcome? Let’s see!
To solve this puzzle, first, let’s discover what is stress, what is anxiety, and is there a difference?
In our daily life, people commonly misuse the terms and use stress & anxiety interchangeably. And this blur between the terms also shows up also on the internet.
After a quick search these are the definitions I found:
Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
Anxiety is feeling of worry, nervousness, unease, fear, distress.
Anxiety is a reaction to stress.
Anxiety is future concern anticipation.
Anxiety is persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor.
Stress is our body’s response to pressure.
No wonder people are confused about the terms and their proper definition – there are so many different definitions that even I get confused and takes a bit of further digging to separate the two to make a clear distinction between.
What is stress?
Let’s get clear with stress first because it is simpler. In physics & mechanics stress is tension itself. However, in our body, we can experience different kinds of stress: physical, mental, emotional. And regardless of the source body will react chemically and respond in kind. Stress itself is neither good or bad.
Let’s look at a muscle-building example. You need stress to prepare the muscles for growth by exercise. However, you need rest (lack of stress) to let the body regenerate and grow the muscle. Both are needed and useful!
Next, is anxiety feeling or emotion? Till very recently I also was using these terms interchangeably, however there is very important distinction to make which will help us to understand anxiety and its management.
So what is the difference between feelings and emotions?
This topic as well is very confusing partly because the root of the word “feel” is also a verb that is an act of observing both feelings and emotions.
We also observe that their official definitions use a circular reference to each other.
Emotion is “strong feeling (as anger, love, joy, or fear) often accompanied by a physical reaction”
Feeling is “an emotional state or reaction”
Let us define emotion as caused by body’s physical reaction in form of hormones released. This is temporary (couple of seconds) and dissipates as the trigger disappears.
Feelings on the other hand are the mind’s interpretation (“labeling”) of emotions observed and can persist after the cause of emotions to arise has gone.
A bit of word game to help you to remember –
e-motion – in movement – not persistent, always changing
feeling – continuous action of measuring, like an instrument can show the result even after the act of measuring, can persist
Now that we are clear about the distinction between emotions and feelings: is anxiety feeling or emotion?
Clearly, by personal experience confirmed by countless others – anxiety can persist even if there is no apparent cause or trigger for it anymore. I am sure you have observed the same, right?
Therefore – anxiety is a feeling! NOT emotion.
So how does this distinction help us to manage anxiety? Now that we know that it is not an emotion, just by “managing stress” on its own might not make it go away (even though thats a great first step!)
Yes, you want to manage stress before, so you have the capacity to overcome anxiety, to have the capacity to have awareness of how to overcome it!
To help us understand anxiety better, let’s see how it is caused in our bodies. The most visual way of representing this is using the triune brain model. Where each part is responsible of certain functions in the body.
reptilian brain – stress response to resolve physical threats
limbic – emotional regulation (anxiety)
neo-cortex – thinking mind (thoughts)
Why I mark the limbic brain with anxiety? Because the limbic brain is responsible for releasing the hormones that cause the emotions characterized by anxiety. The limbic brain is responsible for the continuous release of these hormones even after a physical or mental threat / stressor is gone.
In case of physical cause – removing the physical stressor – anxiety stops.
In case of mental cause (focusing our conscious mind on worries) – by shifting our focus we can “think anxiety away”.
How about the times when anxiety can’t be controlled or wished away?
Interestingly enough, limbic brain is also responsible for memory and linking between conscious parts (neo-cortex) and subconscious ( reptilian-brain) parts of the brain.
Limbic trio: emotion + memory + conscious/subconscious.
I wanted to specifically highlight this relationship because it clearly explains the cause for anxiety!
It is sum of our past experiences, stories, and the meaning of those stories, beliefs, and thoughts which influence how we label each event and stimulation we receive from the outside world. Because of this subconscious & memory part, it is not always possible to “just think it away” or “exercise away”.
This also explains why many people in same conditions & same environment feel good and others suffer from anxiety. It’s the difference in mindset (consciously and subconsciously)!
So how to deal with anxiety or depression?
In two words? Be present!
First make sure there are no physical threats, reminders, or triggers. We want your nervous system to calm down. Be present to your environment.
Then make sure you are not contributing to deepening the anxiety with your current thoughts, stories, interpretations, and meanings of past events or future expectations. Be present with your thoughts.
Then raise your energy levels. Move your body to make yourself feel good (or at least better). Like in physics – elevated object has more potential energy. Elevate yourself to raise the potential to conquer the state of anxiety.
After this, there are many different techniques for accessing your subconscious mind. And most of them rely on priming (with questions) and observing what surfaces in the conscious mind from the subconscious. Again – be present.
In case you feel like having too big of an opponent – return back to previous steps. Check if you are not making it worse by assuming that because in past this didn’t work… or any other limiting beliefs.
Return back to raising your energy – apply stress management techniques such as walking, talking, exercising, and socializing. Keep at it and cultivate the belief that this works for faster results! (Yes, why would you sabotage yourself and make it long and painful by entertaining an opposing thought?)
What is the cover photo do with the topic?
Glad you asked! Now that we understand the difference between stress and anxiety. We can explore the story about the cover photo. The photo was taken at sunrise of mount Teide at close to freezing temperature. So obviously stress is cold and fear of falling (as I am balancing on one leg on top of some rocks).
Anxiety can come in and try to pull me out of this situation (try to protect me and assure my survival) in case of some past traumas or unpleasant experiences. If I was scared of heights – I would not be able to stand there comfortably. If I had past experience of suffering in cold or being shy, I might not allow myself to take off the shirt.
You can realize that there can be many stories and reasons why this photo would not be possible because of our brain’s automatic response to protect and assure our survival. For good or for bad…
Yes, anxiety always has good intentions – to protect you from something worse, therefore it justifies immediate discomfort or stress.
And at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide what kind of experiences you want to have in this life. Whether it is better to avoid being triggered or remove those triggers from your mind. Evaluating it case by case, either can work for a happy and fulfilled life!
I believe this helps and I am looking forward to read about the stories and methods that have worked for you! Leave them in the comments or write me a private message!
Always feel free to express what’s on your mind. Smile & be present! 🐝🙏💝