How does stress work?
In prehistoric times, stress was a natural response to a threat, like hearing a predator in the bushes. Today, it still prompts a behavioral response, firing up your limbic system and releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which help activate your brain and body to deal with the threat, Dr. Greenberg explained. Symptoms of stress include a rapid heart rate, clammy palms and shallow breath. Stress might feel good at first, as the adrenaline and cortisol flood your body, Dr. Marques said. You might have experienced the benefits of stress as you raced through traffic to get to an appointment, or pulled together an important assignment in the final hour. That’s called “acute stress,” and the rush wore off when the situation was resolved (i.e. you turned in your assignment).
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when your body stays in this fight-or-flight mode continuously (usually because the situation doesn’t resolve, as with financial stressors or a challenging boss). Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease and a weakening of the immune system.
Three things to help your stress
Get exercise. This is a way for your body to recover from the increase of adrenaline and cortisol.
Get clear on what you can and can’t control. Then focus your energy on what you can control and accept what you can’t.
Don’t compare your stress with anyone else’s stress. Different people respond differently to stressful situations.
Remember: Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives.
What is anxiety?
If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the culmination. Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress), which means that we experience anxiety in both our mind and our body. “In some ways,” Dr. Marques said, “anxiety is what happens when you’re dealing with a lot of worry and a lot of stress.”
How does anxiety work?
Remember how stress is a natural response to a threat? Well, anxiety is the same thing … except there is no threat.
“Anxiety in some ways is a response to a false alarm,” said Dr. Marques, describing a situation, for example, in which you show up at work and somebody gives you an off look. You start to have all the physiology of a stress response because you’re telling yourself that your boss is upset with you, or that your job might be at risk. The blood is flowing, the adrenaline is pumping, your body is in a state of fight or flight — but there is no predator in the bushes.