The terms stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably. To develop a deeper understanding of mental wellbeing, it’s helpful to understand how they differ.
Stress is best understood as manifesting in the body. It’s the racing heart, sweaty palms and upset stomach we’re all familiar with. Central to the experience of stress is the amygdala, the area of your brain responsible for generating your body’s stress response.
Experts agree that a core component of stress is the perception of threat and danger. You’ve probably heard of the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response as a reaction to perceived danger. In fact, we have various stress responses. For example, there is one response which encourages us to reach out for social support, named the ‘tend and befriend’ response.
Anxiety is commonly described as having both mental and physical symptoms. The distinction between mental and physical anxiety is important because different tools are required for addressing physical symptoms (what we label autostress) and mental symptoms (what we label anxiety).
Anxiety is best described as the unhelpful thinking patterns we experience when our mind fixates on threat, uncertainty and negativity.
Anxiety can occur on its own, as a response to stress, or it can trigger stress. When it occurs as a response to stress, it can intensify the stress, and, in worst cases, lead to panic attacks.
It’s important to understand that you cannot control anxiety from occurring – this is your brain’s automatic survival mechanism. What matters is learning how to respond to anxiety helpfully, so that you don’t get carried away by it.
Practical Wisdom for Tolerating Anxiety & Uncertainty
People who experience anxiety have been shown to have a low tolerance for uncertainty. It’s worth reminding ourselves that uncertainty is an inescapable part of life, and the sooner we become more comfortable with it, the sooner we can reduce mental suffering.
Stoic and Buddhist philosophy both emphasize embracing uncertainty and change as the essence of life. Many people find reading about these topics helpful, stating that practical wisdom helped them shift their mindset and reduce and treat anxiety.
I can provide the tools to help you build resilience during difficult times.
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