Stress and Anxiety share the shame physical symptoms (increase in heart beat, rapid breathing and muscle tension). There is an overlap between anxiety and stress but they have different cognitive components. When you feel stressed, you tend to know what worries you but with anxiety you become less aware of what you are anxious about and the reaction becomes a problem. You start to feel anxious about being anxious. The stress we experience in our day to day life is associated with frustration and nervousness where anxiety comes from a place of fear, unease and worry. It’s apparent that when we feel stressed we know what we are dealing with and it’s important to prioritise and cope with the stress in a healthy way.
Anxiety and worry are the inseparable twins. There are worse things you can suffer from but anxiety and worry are among the commonest problems people seek help for. Why is this? First anxiety and worry are closely related to fear. Fear can be a very strong emotion and there are god biological reasons for it. Our early ancestors probably had a very highly developed sense of fear because their survival frequently depended on their ability to sense danger and to take whatever action seemed most appropriate – fight or flight.
Today, our fears derive from the hazards of living. We may not have quite so many threats and potential dangers to our lives as primitive man faced but we make up for our lack of fear of being eaten alive by torturing ourselves with self –inflicted anxiety and worry. (Dryden, W. & Gordon, J. (1990). Think your Way to Happiness). Stress can be healthy as it raises your alertness to face a challenging life stressor. However, when it’s activated constantly and unnecessarily can have an unhealthy impact as has been discussed above.
Life stressors inevitably produce some emotional strain and physical tension. Stress initiates a characteristic biological response which involves interconnections among the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. The two most heavily studied stress related mechanisms have been the sympathetic arousal and activation of the hypothalamic-pituary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. Both mechanisms involve initial central nervous system input from the hypothalamus at the base of the brain and both systems operate through the adrenal glands located above the kidneys. Short term activation of these biological mechanisms is adaptive, mobilising energy and enhancing alertness to respond to adaptive demands.
Sympathetic arousal is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system which also released norepinephrine at multiple sites of the body and stimulates adrenal medulla to release adrenaline (epinephrine). Stress is a triggering factor for migraine and tension type headaches. It’s also linked to wear and tear of arteries and coronary vessels. Chronic sympathetic arousal also increases blood clotting through coronary vasoconstriction and increased platelet aggregation. (Moos, R., Holahan, C., & Ragan, J. (2004). Stress. Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology. Vol. p. 485-493.)
Stress is associated with the onset of depressive disorders and to relapse among individuals recovering from depressive disorders. Life stressors can also precipitate both the onset and relapse of anxiety disorders such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, agoraphobia and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. They can also play a role in the development and progression of alcohol and drug abuse.
As Humans we are capable of a full range of physiological responses in emotional episodes and particularly when we experience stress. So our bodies are a central part of being a human. We tend not to think of our bodies when they are in good working order, but when something goes wrong we do focus on the aspect that has gone wrong and take steps to remedy whatever it is that is wrong. However, sometimes bodily sensations caused by stress can be misinterpreted resulting in escalating stress. It’s human nature to exaggerate, so sometimes we claim we feel something more than we actually do. This result in being stressed about being stressed.