Anxiety does evoke the same “fight or flight” response that stress does, which means, like stress, anxiety will trigger a flood of stress hormones like cortisol designed to enhance your speed, reflexes, heart rate, and circulation. However, stress can occur with feelings of anger, sadness, or even happiness and excitement.
Anxiety, on the other hand, virtually always involves a sense of fear, dread, or apprehension. And while stress may occur due to an external source (like an argument with your spouse), anxiety tends to be a more internal response.
Further, brief anxiety may coincide with a stressful event (such as speaking in public), but an anxiety disorder will persist for months even when there’s no clear reason to be anxious. While the exact causes for anxiety disorders are unknown, your brain is actively involved.
“Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety… scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals. It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response.
The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders, or flying. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories.”
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