Stress vs Anxiety: How to Tell the Difference
People often use stress and anxiety interchangeably, yet they are quite different. So, what’s the difference when it comes to stress vs. anxiety? Stress is a demand on your brain, a response to a threat. On the other hand, anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, or unease and often doesn’t require a trigger. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. I will explain the difference between stress vs. anxiety and tell you about my proven solution for relieving stress naturally.
Some stress is necessary to keep your immune system sharp and to stay alive in dangerous situations. Yet, prolonged, relentless stress can contribute to leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, heart disease, anxiety, and many autoimmune conditions.
Unfortunately, our modern lives are fraught with ongoing stress from long hours at work, traffic, financial worries, and health issues. We may only be able to avoid stress partially. Learning to relieve stress naturally is the key to minimizing its impact on your health.
I will talk about stress vs. anxiety, what causes stress and anxiety, and give you the tools to promote a healthy stress response. Let’s begin by discussing stress vs. anxiety and why they are so different yet can seem similar.
Stress vs. Anxiety
To understand the difference between stress vs. anxiety, remember that stress isn’t just a feeling. Stress can be emotional (going through a breakup or death in the family), mental (financial troubles or a high-demanding job), or physical (injury or exercise). It’s your body’s response to a potentially dangerous situation.
Your brain releases cortisol, a steroid hormone, to turn on your body’s “fight or flight” mode when faced with a dangerous situation. Here’s how it works:
When you experience any kind of stress, whether physical (slamming on your brakes), emotional (going through a heartbreak), or mental (overloaded at work), your body processes it the same- through the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands respond by creating a flood of stress hormones, including cortisol, which affect both your digestive system and your immune system (80% of which is located in your gut). Our stress response evolved primarily as a means of self-preservation from our ancestors facing immediate, life-threatening situations. Unfortunately, that response isn’t ideal for the type of chronic, ongoing stress we face today.
The occasional stress is fine and perfectly normal. However, when your adrenal glands are on high alert due to chronic stress, this can lead to too much cortisol in the bloodstream, which has several effects on your body.
Anxiety is also part of your body’s natural fight or flight response, which results in a faster heartbeat, faster breathing, and often diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms occur with both stress and anxiety.
The similarity in symptoms can make it difficult to tell the difference between stress and anxiety. However, there are a few differences. Let’s talk about them.
The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
As I mentioned, stress and anxiety are both responses that are part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. Yet, one is a reaction to the other. The stress response happens quickly, and anxiety is your body’s response to that stress response.1
Stress is a short-term response that lasts minutes or until the threat is gone. Anxiety can linger much after the danger is gone. However, anxiety doesn’t need an identifiable trigger to kick in the body’s natural stress response.
For example, when you get stuck in a traffic jam, your body’s stress response kicks in and floods your body with cortisol. Once you’ve gotten out of the traffic jam, your body releases serotonin to reduce cortisol levels, and you no longer feel stressed. Anxiety, however, can linger for hours after the threat is gone and interfere with your daily life. Or, you could feel anxiety about the next time you get on the road regardless of whether or not there’s a traffic jam.
Symptoms of stress vs. anxiety are similar, yet there are ways to tell the difference. For example, stress can cause moodiness and irritability. In contrast, anxiety causes restlessness. Let’s talk about what you could feel with stress vs. anxiety.
What Does Stress and Anxiety Feel Like?
There is a fine line between stress vs. anxiety. Remember, both are responses to stress. Yet, anxiety doesn’t need an external trigger to turn on your body’s natural stress response. Anxiety causes a near identical set of symptoms, such as insomnia, brain fog, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.2 Here are the key differences in the symptoms of stress vs. anxiety:
Anxiety, however, has a broader reach in your body and can cause overreaction, an inability to function, and unrealistic feelings of dread. At low levels, anxiety can feel like being nervous or worried about an upcoming event. At high levels, it feels like panic. Stress can just feel like being under pressure or overwhelmed, even at lower levels.3
Another way to distinguish stress vs. anxiety is to look for an external trigger. If you can link symptoms to an external factor, your feelings are probably the result of stress. If you are unable to associate your feelings with a specific event, you’re likely experiencing anxiety.
What Causes Stress and Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety can have similar causes. As a person gets exposed to repeated stressors, they may eventually develop anxiety or an anxiety disorder.
Stress often occurs in response to physical or mental pressure. Some of the most common stress triggers4 include:
- Getting or losing a job
- A new relationship or a breakup
- Dealing with death or disability
- Chronic illness
- Trauma or traumatic events
As mentioned, anxiety doesn’t always need a trigger. Yet, anxiety can be triggered by the following5:
- Public speaking
- A phobia, such as snakes, spiders, heights, or even blood
- Feelings of judgment
- Making new friends or being in social situations
Anxiety disorders develop from many factors, including brain chemistry and genetics. Health conditions can also cause anxiety. These include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A condition that causes anxiety in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.
- Panic disorder: An anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks that may include chest pain, shortness of breath, and gut issues. These episodes occur without a known fear or stressor.
- General anxiety disorder (GAD): A common condition characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about everyday things such as work performance.
- Social anxiety: A condition in which social interactions cause excessive fear and anxiety.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A common disorder in which an individual has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and/or behaviors that they feel the need to repeat over and over.
You can’t entirely avoid stress and anxiety, and the good news is that you can minimize its impact on your health by finding natural relief. I will tell you about natural ways to reduce stress and anxiety in just a minute. Before I do that, let’s discuss the long-term effects of stress and anxiety.
The Effects of Long-Term Stress and Anxiety
Anxiety does a lot more than make you worry. It can cause headaches and stomach issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and insomnia. Left unaddressed, there is a link between chronic anxiety and stress and migraine headaches, cardiovascular disease, a plethora of autoimmune diseases, advanced aging, and adrenal fatigue.
Neverending anxiety leads to adrenal fatigue and adrenal burnout. When your brain constantly signals your adrenals to produce stress hormones, it is an incredible burden for your body. It affects your mood, sleep, sex drive, immune system, blood sugar, appetite, and thyroid.
It’s important to remember that your adrenal glands are not the underlying cause; they’re just in the crossfire. The best way to treat adrenal fatigue is to address the root cause: anxiety, which elevates your cortisol levels.
Chronically elevated cortisol also leads to weight gain and fat storage, resulting in blood sugar imbalance, muscle wasting, sex hormone dysregulation, and more. Your adrenal glands must work incredibly hard to keep up with a needless demand, which fatigues them, leading to adrenal dysfunction and burnout. The good news is that by getting to the root cause of your stress and anxiety, you can reduce the long-term effects. Let’s discuss how.
How to Manage Stress and Anxiety Naturally
Conventional medicine suppresses symptoms of anxiety and stress through harsh medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These medications can be addictive and have awful side effects, such as memory problems, muscle weakness, and dizziness. Benzodiazepines can even cause depression.6
Even if you don’t have these side effects and the medication temporarily eases your symptoms, they do not get to the root of your anxiety or stress. The truth is, there are natural solutions to manage your anxiety without relying on medications to ease symptoms. Here are some of my tried-and-true ways to calm anxiety.
Calories aren’t the only thing you burn when you move your body. Exercise is a great way to burn off anxious energy as well! Exercise increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins.7 You don’t have to do strenuous exercise routines to get the benefits of exercise for anxiety. One of my favorite ways to get exercise is to go on a walk with my family and our dogs, Mocha and Mac. A walk outdoors with your family is the perfect opportunity to move your body and clear your mind!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine?” It’s true! Laughing has many benefits to calming anxiety. Laughter can stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles and increase the brain’s release of endorphins.8 Studies show that laughter slows down your stress response and the release of cortisol and adrenaline. It can also stimulate blood circulation and relax your muscles.
Who doesn’t love to laugh? Find a book, tv show or a movie that makes you chuckle for a good humor boost to relieve your anxiety. Call a friend who always makes you laugh. You’ll get the added bonus of feeling a connection and the distraction of hearing someone else’s voice.
Removing Caffeine or Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol are known triggers for stress and anxiety. People with social anxiety, in particular, often turn to alcohol to alleviate their symptoms, yet it can worsen symptoms. Caffeine is a stimulant that can stimulate your fight-or-flight response.
Studies show that it can worsen stress and anxiety and even trigger a panic attack in those with panic disorder.9 Instead of caffeinated coffee or tea, opt for sparkling water, tiger nut horchata, fresh-pressed juice, or coconut water, which are naturally caffeine-free, yet energizing.
Getting Optimal Sleep
Your life and health can change when you get enough quality sleep. In fact, the benefits of optimal sleep are so far-reaching that you’ll be amazed by how much restful, restorative sleep can change your world.
Having a healthy sleep schedule can help you better manage stress and anxiety and benefit you physically. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night (preferably before 10 p.m.) and get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Suppose you are experiencing difficulty falling or staying asleep at night. In that case, Rest and Restore™ is the ideal combination of PharmaGABA®, L-Theanine, Magnesium, and Glycine to support relaxation and a healthy night’s sleep optimally.
Adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, ginseng, and Rhodiola, are a class of herbs that have been used for centuries to help the body manage stress. These herbs support a more balanced response to ongoing stress and augment the optimal production of stress hormones and cortisol production to prevent adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens also help modulate cellular sensitivity to stress hormones, encouraging a healthier stress response.
ZenAdapt™ contains an ideal blend of botanicals and micronutrients for promoting the optimal cortisol and balanced stress response. That way, you can mitigate the overproduction of the stress-response chemicals that keep you tossing and turning at night. I made sure to include four of the most potent adaptogenic herbs:
- Ashwagandha helps the body cope with stress by promoting balanced adrenal function. Ashwagandha supports the balanced release of stress hormones, relieves occasional anxiousness, and promotes healthy energy levels.
- Rhodiola Root Extract balances cortisol during periods of high stress. Too much cortisol (your primary stress hormone) can deplete your nutrient reserves, increase belly fat, waste away lean muscle mass, and impair memory. It can also devastate your blood pressure, blood sugar, and metabolism.
- PEA is a naturally-occurring fatty acid. It is similar to cannabidiol (CBD) in its ability to soothe overstimulated nerves and promote a healthy inflammatory response to stress. Unlike CBD, PEA is naturally produced by your body, has no danger of being tainted by illegal TCH (the compound that creates a “high”), and has no known side effects!
- Saffron, the famed “$10,000 spice,” is known for being the most expensive spice in the world. It’s worth every penny! Saffron has well-demonstrated effects on supporting healthy weight loss, sexual function, and free-radical fighting activity in the body.
Talking to someone is always a great place to start dealing with anxiety. The most common therapy treatment is Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT). This traditional method involves identifying and understanding what’s causing your stress so you can change your behavior and thinking. Benefits may be seen in 12 to 16 weeks.
With so many technological advances, you don’t have to leave your house for therapy sessions. You can do them via phone, video chat, or text messaging. Finding a therapist can be challenging, so I encourage you to take it slow and find someone you feel comfortable with.
There is a lot of recent research into the benefits of human-animal interaction. Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve cardiovascular health. Pets also provide valuable companionship and add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Pet ownership does take responsibility, so consider whether you live in an apartment or a house, your lifestyle, and your work schedule before adopting a pet.
The Final Word
Understanding the difference between stress vs. anxiety and getting to the root cause is the first step in finding natural relief. Use these natural ways to relieve stress and anxiety and add ZenAdapt™ to your daily routine. It’s also perfect in the aftermath of extended periods of stress and low energy and cortisol. I find it’s truly the best way to relax and unwind at the end of my hectic, stressful days.
- Stress vs. anxiety: How to tell the difference. Amanda Barrell and Timothy J. Legg, PhD. Medical News Today. 2020.
- What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?. Mary Alvord, PhD and Raquel Halfond, PhD. American Psychological Association. 2019.
- Stress vs Anxiety: Understanding the Difference. Hailey Shafir and Dena Westphalen. Choosing Therapy. 2022.
- Causes of Stress. Stephanie Watson and Jennifer Casarella, MD. WedMD. 2022.
- Anxiety Disorders. Cleveland Clinic. 2020.
- Drugs to Treat Anxiety Disorder. Rebecca Barnhart, PharmD and Ann Pietrangelo. Healthline. 2021.
- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. Mayo Clinic. 2022.
- Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke. Mayo Clinic. 2021.
- Effects of caffeine on anxiety and panic attacks in patients with panic disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lisa Klevebrant and Andreas Frick. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2021.
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