Anxiety and stress – what's the difference?

Anxiety and stress – what's the difference?
Hypnotherapists often meet clients who say ‘how scared and overwhelmed’ they are when they experience anxiety and stress.

As part of our client therapy, we make time to explain and clarify what anxiety and stress is and how they are linked. We consider it important to communicate the differences. It means, clients have an understanding and awareness of what is really happening. It takes away any ‘unknown and associated fears’.

This is the first step to intercept the process of anxiety and stress.

We often hear the words "anxiety" and "stress" as they are commonly used interchangeably in conversation. Unbeknown to many, there is a difference:

Anxiety is nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Feelings of unease, often related to situations perceived as uncontrollable or unavoidable. Anxiety is often thought of as the “inability to handle the ambiguities or uncertainties of life…….”

On the other hand, stress is the body’s reaction to a circumstance or situation that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment or response.

We may be unaware or have forgotten that anxiety/stress is a necessary and essential part of life. It is part of our survival mechanism; an inevitable result of the interaction between us and the environment. In other words, the inevitable result of the interaction between us and the environment [stressors] - stress response. The experience is unique to the individual.

One particular system responsible for the stress response is the Autonomic Nervous System.

Briefly, it is part of the Peripheral Nervous System [the nervous system that excludes the brain and spinal cord and operates involuntary].

The Autonomic Nervous System includes:

  • Sympathetic division acts to energize the body - preparing for action [Fight or Flight Response]
  • Parasympathetic division acts to calm the body - allowing rest

The stress response includes:

Fast track - primary response

Triggered within us in response to short-term threats [ e.g. chased by a dog], a reflex response, which is electrically triggered.

Electrical impulses from the hypothalamus travel along nerves that directly connect to the adrenal glands and stimulate the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Nerve impulses travel at 150 metres per second.

Slow track - secondary response

Chemical response which can be triggered by a mere internal thought [e.g. memory of a school bully] as well as a reaction to something outside of us. A signal is sent to the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and their activity takes minutes or hours to transpire; stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

For more information about how hypnotherapy can assist you to manage stress and anxiety, please contact the expert contributor.

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