25 Mar What is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are not abnormal feelings or reactions. We all experience these at times
and to varying degrees. Either can become overwhelming and disruptive to your life, and yet
there are important differences. Most notable is that anxiety can be a specific mental
illness, a type of anxiety disorder. Regardless of whether your struggles are related to stress,
anxiety, or both, it is important to know when to get professional help.
What is Stress:
Stress is a perfectly normal response of the body to some type of change, demand, or
threat. The response can have a physical, emotional, or mental component. Everyone
experiences some degree of stress in their lives and each person may respond differently.
Stress can be triggered by many things such as pressure from responsibilities at home, work,
or school, financial problems, being very busy or a major or sudden change, like the current
pandemic. Overwhelming and chronic stress is not good for mental or physical health. When
stress persists it can cause depression, physical pain, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues,
isolation, changes in diet and weight, and even heart disease.
What is Anxiety:
Firstly, anxiety is also normal. It is a feeling of fear, worry, or nervousness. You might get
anxious before a big test, for instance, worried that you won’t do well. Stress and anxiety
often go together, with stressful events or experiences triggering feelings of anxiety.
When anxiety becomes problematic is when it is out of control and impacts your life in
significantly negative ways. Excessive anxiety can cause similar issues as chronic stress:
emotional distress and physical symptoms. High anxiety or an anxiety disorder may prevent
you from doing things, like meeting up with friends, going to work, or trying something new.
Am I Experiencing Stress or Anxiety?
Chances are that you are probably experiencing a little bit of both, but one may be more
overwhelming. Here are some signs that can help you distinguish between anxiety and
- Stress is mostly external. While you can cause yourself stress through negative
self-talk, a pessimistic attitude, or a sense of perfectionism, it is usually triggered
by something external. Too many responsibilities or a high-stakes work project
trigger a stress response. Anxiety, on the other hand, is more internal. It is how
you react to stressors. If you remove those stressors and still feel overwhelmed
and distressed, you are likely dealing with anxiety.
- Anxiety is an excessive reaction to a given situation. Certain situations are
stressful, and would be for anyone, such as dealing with arrangements for the
death of a loved one. Anxiety is more of an outsized reaction. If the worry and
distress you feel in a given situation is unusual, excessive, or goes well beyond
the reactions of other people, it may be anxiety rather than stress.
- Anxiety can cause you to be unable to function. Most stressful situations are
difficult to get through but are ultimately manageable. Anxiety disorders can
leave you completely unable to manage normal, everyday tasks. If you are
distressed to the point of being unable to work or of having a panic attack, an
anxiety disorder may be the underlying issue.
- Anxiety causes feelings of dread and fear of things that haven’t happened or
don’t exist. Stress is a response to something happening or a pressure you feel.
Anxiety can be completely internal and not a reaction to anything that exists in
reality. For instance, with an anxiety disorder you may feel a general sense of
apprehension, dread, and worry, even when there is nothing coming up that
should cause you to be concerned.
- Specific symptoms may signify an anxiety disorder. If you have certain, specific
symptoms, these may indicate you have an anxiety disorder or at least that your
issue is beyond simple stress. For example, panic attacks are characteristic of
panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder. High levels of stress and anxiety in
social situations may indicate a social anxiety disorder.
While stress and anxiety are normal emotions and reactions, they can become outsized. If
stress or worry overwhelm you, take over your life, and prevent you from functioning, you
could benefit from some professional therapy and treatment.
Treatment for excessive stress or an anxiety disorder is available and is highly effective. You
may benefit from medical care to manage any underlying illnesses or for complications
caused by stress. Therapy can can also teach you useful strategies for coping with stress and
anxiety, and give you the tools you need to practice good mental health.