What's the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

Some topics we cover in this newsletter have clear, definite differences: Bugs and insectsConcrete and cementHash browns and home fries. We define them and we draw lines in the sand because putting things in boxes and imposing order on them feels pleasing and correct. 

But when it comes to human emotions, things tend to get a little bit slippery. And few emotions are as human—and as nebulous—as stress and anxiety. Chances are, you’ve experienced one or both in your life, probably more times than you can count—but your lived experience could feel very different from the person next to you, from your best friend, from your therapist, from me! So why do we even try to define them? Because understanding and putting a name to the things that we feel can be the first step towards working through them. 

So let’s give it a shot. Stress is usually something that comes with an identifiable cause, some external factor that creates a sense of pressure, tension, nervousness, and/or alertness. It’s a reaction to something tangible happening: I have a deadline coming up, or I’m moving, or I’m starting a brand-new job, or even I’m throwing a dinner party and my apartment is a mess and people are arriving in ten minutes. When that “something tangible happening” happens and gets resolved—when you hand in the paper, or you finish moving, or you get settled into your job, or your friends arrive and help you clean—the feelings of stress usually dissipate.

Anxiety, however, is less clear-cut. It’s less about an identifiable external cause or stimuli, and more something that comes from an internal place. It’s feeling on edge, restless, tense, worried, apprehensive, and/or nervous, oftentimes without really knowing why—for me, it can manifest itself as a constant, nagging feeling that I forgot something but can’t quite remember what. It can be situational, when stress about an external factor spirals into worries and fears beyond the issue at hand, or can come from an anxiety condition, of which 18% of adults struggle with. There are many different forms of anxiety, too many to get into here (especially as someone with no psychological training). But it’s important to know that anxiety can rear its head for both concrete reasons and for no reason at all, and that if you struggle with it, you’re not alone.

While we have these loose definitions, it’s important to note that stress and anxiety have a very intimate relationship with each other. An external cause can turn on both stress and anxiety; too much stress can morph into anxiety; anxiety and stress can shack up and co-habitate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by either (or both), remember to take some time for yourself, whatever that means for you—and to hit up a friend and/or therapist to talk things out. Stress and anxiety can be isolating, but it doesn't have to be that way. 

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What's the Difference Between Jealousy and Envy?

Emotions are complicated. And if you, like me, would rather spend your time baking a deranged amount of granola or meticulously color-coding your closet instead of actually facing them, I feel you. But part of being an adult is trying to make sense of the things we feel in a given day—and it helps when you can actually define them. So let’s start with the difference with jealousy and envy, shall we? 

To put it bluntly, we feel envy when we want something that someone else has that we don’t. As in: I’m envious of her flowing mane of hair, or her new high-powered job, or her angelic ability to play the trombone. On the other hand, we feel jealous when something we possess is being threatened by another person—or, in other words, when we worry that someone will take away something that we already have. You may feel jealous, for example, when your girlfriend is dancing with another guy; the emotion is a direct result of something you have (a relationship) being threatened by someone else. 

In short: envy is a reaction to lacking something, while jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something.

Although the two emotions are actually quite different, it’s easy to get them confused. First off, many people use them interchangeably; you may hear something like, “I’m jealous of his rock-hard abs,” when the correct term would actually be “envious.” Many times, however, jealousy and envy travel together; you may feel jealous when another guy is chatting up your girlfriend, and you may also be envious of some qualities that he has that you don’t.

But chances are, statistically, that guy doesn’t subscribe to What’s the Difference. So at least you have that going for you!

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What's the Difference Between Venomous and Poisonous?

Summer is over, Labor Day weekend has come and gone, and we’re all feeling the sting of being back at work. But is that creeping feeling paralyzing you at your desk the result of poison, or of venom? Let’s find out!  

The term “venomous” applies to organisms that bite or sting to inject their toxins, while the term “poisonous” applies to organisms that unleash their toxins when you eat them

That means that most snakes, contrary to popular belief, are venomous, not poisonous—with the exception of the garter snake, which has a harmless bite but is poisonous to eat because it absorbs the poison of the newts and salamanders it preys on. Other venomous creatures include dangerous spiders, like the black widow; some types of iguanas, like the komodo dragon; and the platypus, which can sting with a fang-like spur on the inner side of each of its ankles. Cnidarians, which include jellyfish, sea anemones, and coral, are also venomous; they sting their prey with the help of nematocysts, small capsules filled with coiled, barbed threads that often contain toxins.  

On the poisonous side of the spectrum, you’ll find most amphibians; many frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders carry around toxins on their skin and in other parts of their body, making them dangerous for humans (and many other animals) to consume.  

When it comes to plants, the line between poisonous and venomous gets a little blurrier. Some plants are straight-up poisonous to eat, such as lily of the valley and oleander. Other plants, though they don’t have fangs, spurs, or nematocysts, are more in the venomous category; stinging nettles, for instance, have bulbous tips that break off when an animal passes by, revealing small, tooth-like structures that pierce the skin and inject a mix of toxins. And poison ivy? Technically, it’s more towards the venomous side of the spectrum; we get those itchy rashes when we brush past it, not when we consume it.

Before you go, here are some poisonous/venomous superlatives, to keep this week’s angst in perspective:

Most Venomous Spider: the Brazilian wandering spider, whose bite can cause muscle shock or even death.
Most Venomous Fish: the tropical stonefish, which is camouflaged to look just like a stone on the ocean floor but has 13 dorsal spines, each equipped with enough toxin to kill a shark (or human).
Most Poisonous Frog: the golden poison frog, which has enough poison to kill ten grown men.
Fastest Venomous Snake: the black mamba, which also happens to be one of the world's most venomous snakes and can move at a speed of 12.5 miles per hour.
Most Terrifying Way to Die: a sting from the Carukia barnesi species of jellyfish, which contains enough of the fight-or-flight hormone noradrenalin to make a human literally panic to death.

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What's the Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath?

To answer today's question, we’re turning to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and Encyclopedia BritannicaSociopathy and psychopathy are both defined in the DSM as types of anti-social personality disorders, which are characterized by a “pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” 
 
When it comes to the differences between the two conditions, Encyclopedia Britannica writes:

Among persons who display APD, those called psychopaths are distinguished by a nearly complete inability to form genuine emotional attachments to others; a compensating tendency to form artificial and shallow relationships, which the psychopath cynically exploits or manipulates to benefit himself; a corresponding ability to appear glib and even charming to others; an ability in some psychopaths to maintain the appearance of a normal work and family life; and a tendency to carefully plan criminal activities to avoid detection. 
 
Sociopaths, in contrast, are generally capable of developing a close attachment to one or a few individuals or groups, though they too generally have severe difficulties in forming relationships. Sociopaths are also usually incapable of anything even remotely resembling a normal work or family life, and, in comparison to psychopaths, they are exceptionally impulsive and erratic and more prone to rage or violent outbursts. Accordingly, their criminal activities tend to be spur-of-the-moment rather than carefully premeditated. 

How about nature vs. nurture? Environmental and biological factors play a role in the makeup of both the sociopath and psychopath. However, according to Encyclopedia Britannica,

It is generally agreed that psychopathy is chiefly a genetic or inherited condition, notably related to the underdevelopment of parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control. The most-important causes of sociopathy, in contrast, lie in physical or emotional abuse or severe trauma experienced during childhood.

In short: "Psychopaths are born, and sociopaths are made."

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