Most people talk about worry, stress and anxiety interchangeably. If we want to resolve our stress and anxiety, we need to know the difference so we can resolve how we respond to each.
Worry occurs when the mind fixates and obsesses on a real, or unreal problem or difficulty. Worry is repetitive and cognitive taking place in the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that reasons, thinks, strategizes and uses words. When worrying the mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes, or things that could go wrong.
Worry truly has a significant purpose; aiding in problem-solving, productivity and leading us to skillful action. However, when unchecked worry easily leads to stress and anxiety.
Stress is a physiological response to fear. Worries typically are connected to an external event, outside stimulus, or trigger which exhibits increasing cortisol levels, increased heart rate, stomach discomfort, physical and physiological tension, shallow breathing and a general feeling of uneasiness. In order for the cycle of stress to begin, there must be a stressor. Stress is defined as a response to environmental changes that exceed the individual’s resources. Stress is rooted in the reptilian part of the brain which makes it instinctual and unconscious. As with worry, stress serves a function helping us to deal with real threats.
If stress remains unresolved it can have serious consequences; heart disease, high blood sugar, cancer, weakened immune function and chronic illness. Anxiety is the result of worry and stress merging into a chronic state of being. Anxiety expresses itself in many ways; insecurity, dread, resentment, procrastination, despair, projection, defensiveness, and avoidance. Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress), which means we experience anxiety in both our mind and our body. Anxiety combines both the thoughts of danger and the body's fight, flight, or freeze response. Anxiety is rooted in the limbic system and is related to emotions.
Anxiety is useful to help keep us from danger but if it dominates our lives then feeling joy, staying in line with our values and having a good quality of life diminishes. A great place and often the first place to start anxiety recovery is emotion awareness. Learn to distinguish between the two aspects of anxiety – the worry and the stress. Keep a journal of worrying thoughts and physiological response. Once you master the difference you will be ready for the next step, learning to target worrying thoughts with cognitive interventions in turn changing the physiological stress response.
Kristé Sprague is a Doctor of Transpersonal Counseling, Certified Neuroplasticity Specialist, Certified Holistic Practitioner, Certified Recovery Coach and Reiki Master. Kristé specializes in Anxiety Recovery Therapy in Ellsworth, Maine using a compassionate, heart-centered, solution-focused, holistic counseling and coaching model with a strong emphasis on neuroplasticity. Kristé is currently seeing clients for anxiety therapy online across the USA.