Feeling Anxious? 5 Steps to Know If It’s Stress or Anxiety

What To Do About Chronic Stress and Anxiety

Face it, everyone’s stressed and anxious these days. With the election, the pandemic, job losses, distance learning, and relationship issues, it’s no wonder we’re feeling stretched to the limit…or beyond. You may be experiencing headaches, a pit in your stomach, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms are all associated with stress, but they’re also linked to anxiety. How can you tell if you’re just feeling the effects of stacked stresses, or if you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder?

Here’s how to put your symptoms to the test to tell the difference.


Stress is rampant. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of people feel the physical effects of stress, and 73% experience psychological symptoms. Approximately one-third of all Americans say they’re dealing with extreme stress (and these numbers are pre-pandemic).

Stress occurs when a person perceives excessive demands on his or her emotional or physical resources. It typically represents a response to external forces—a pressured deadline at work, a fight with your spouse, or a fender bender, for example. Once the situation has been resolved the stressful feelings subside, and you feel like you can relax again. In some cases, however, the pressure is relentless and leads to chronic stress. It reaches toxic levels when we feel things are out of control.


Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the U.S., typically affecting approximately 40 million Americans each year. Since the pandemic, however, those numbers have skyrocketed, with 31% of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety/depression, according to the CDC.

Anxiety’s origin is internal. It plays a role in how you respond to stress, but it can also be present when there are no external stressors. People with anxiety can be filled with dread, panic, or a feeling that something bad is going to happen in any situation, even ones that should be fun or joyous. Anxious people can feel nervous and uncomfortable in their own skin at the beach while on vacation, at an amusement park, or even while sitting on the couch in the comfort of their own home.

People with anxiety can be filled with dread, panic, or a feeling that something bad is going to happen in any situation. Click To Tweet

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, including:


What makes it more difficult to distinguish everyday stress from anxiety is that the two are often intertwined. Dealing with difficult life circumstances—such as a stressful election, pandemic, divorce, job change, or the death of a close family member—elevates stress hormone levels, which makes us more vulnerable to mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and more.

In 1967, U.S. psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe studied the effects of stress on health, surveying more than 5,000 medical patients. They asked them to say whether they had any of a series of life events in the previous 2 years. Their study showed that the more events someone had the more likely they were to become physically or emotionally sick.

In addition, today’s society is waging social warfare on our brains. Negative news cycles create an us-versus-them mentality, pitting political, racial, and other groups against each other. A 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association found that 56% of adults said following the news causes them stress. And research in the British Journal of Psychology shows that just 14 minutes of negative news has been found to increase both anxious and sad moods.

Take account of the stressors in your life to see if they’re stacking up and contributing to anxiety that’s out of control.


There’s something else at work with stress and anxiety—the amount of “brain reserve” you have. Brain reserve is the extra cushion of brain function you have to help you deal with the stresses life throws at you. In general, the more brain reserve you have, the more resilient you are and the better your brain can handle stacked stresses to keep anxiety and other mental health disorders at bay. When brain reserve falls too low, that’s when anxiousness, depression, or other issues are more likely to develop.

The decisions you make on a daily basis and the habits you engage in are either boosting your brain’s reserve or stealing it and are either protecting you from mental health issues like anxiety or depression or making you more vulnerable to them. Take stock of your daily habits and ask yourself if they’re hurting your brain reserve or helping it.

Things that lower brain reserve include:

  • Head injuries
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Eating junk food
  • Lack of new learning
  • Living in a chaotic environment
  • Exposure to environmental toxins

Things that increase brain reserve include:

  • Brain healthy diet
  • Limited exposure to toxins
  • Regularly engaging in new learning
  • Healthy relationships
  • Taking targeted nutraceuticals


Your brain is also key to determining if you’re experiencing temporary stress or lasting anxiety. Brain SPECT imaging, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain, can be helpful in determining if your brain is “stressed” or if you’re suffering from anxiety. And it can be especially useful in identifying your anxiety type. Amen Clinics, which has built the world’s largest database of functional brain scans—over 160,000 scans and growing—has found 7 different brain patterns associated with anxiety (and depression). Knowing your type is critical to getting the right treatment.


Whether you’re having trouble coping with unrelenting stress or you’re struggling with anxiety, you need to address it. And the earlier you seek help for chronic stress, anxiety, or panic attacks, the better. There are several natural strategies that can reduce symptoms associated with these conditions, including the following:

  • Limit exposure to negative news
  • Limit time spent on social media
  • Avoid self-medicating with toxic substances (drugs or alcohol)
  • Kill the ANTs (the automatic negative thoughts that make you stressed and anxious)
  • Meditate
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Exercise (including calming activities like yoga or tai chi)
  • Eat anti-anxiety foods
  • Consider calming nutraceuticals like GABA, L-theanine, magnesium, and vitamin B6

Anxiety, panic attacks, chronic stress, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Please send info on treatments for anxiety and negativity. What medications and supplements are useful?

    Comment by Carol berger — November 30, 2020 @ 8:49 AM

  2. Tension v Stress

    Tension might be a good reference, up unto the point of stress. Cross that threshold, me, then it’s stress.

    Hmmm. Consider Physics. Tension is a necessary variable within some formulations. Stress cracks the tension.

    Want 2 crack? Go oversubscribe yourself to way too many activities, work, spouse, kids, pets, 5 min just to get out the apartment parking lots and roadways, a 44 min drive to go about 7 1/2 miles, 22 projects in the queue at work, maybe one of ’em get done, today, oh yeah, forgot to pray this morning (well, let’s not forget this one,) then there were 2 cups a Jo B4 gettin’ in the Jeep, creme and sugar, of course … then, welp, “There’s the StarBux … prolly don’t need that double latte this morning;” finally get to work, squeezed so darn tight into the parkin’ space, can’t quite seem to get my door open far enough, whoops! spilled a little coffee on the dress.

    Nampt’ Don’t know why I’d ever consider life in suburbia, again. How was it John Prine said it, ” … Move out to the Country, Build U a home. Grow a little garden, eat alot a peaches, Try to find Jesus on ur own.”

    just an indian. 2 mi S of the Peach

    Comment by Alabama.Brian — December 1, 2020 @ 3:06 AM

  3. good article! I think my son may be suffering from anxiety? I’m passing this article on to him.

    Comment by june — December 11, 2020 @ 3:49 AM

  4. Hello Carol, thank you for reaching out. Our Care Coordinators will reach out to you directly. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 21, 2020 @ 7:38 PM

  5. Hey very nice site!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I'll bookmark your site and take the feeds also…I'm happy to find numerous useful information here in the post, we need develop more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

    Comment by vorbelutrioperbir — November 23, 2023 @ 4:36 AM

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