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Stress and Anxiety: What’s the Difference?


August 28, 2019 | Published by

Stress and anxiety affect most people at some point in their lives but recognizing the difference between the two can often be difficult. Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between stress and anxiety.

What do stress and anxiety feel like?

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently, but there are some common psychological and physical symptoms. Physical symptoms include (2):

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Change in appetite
  • Stomachache
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Frequent urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Issues sleeping

In addition to physical symptoms, some mental or emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety include (2):

  • Nervousness or panic, notably in social settings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Irrational anger
  • Restlessness
  • Constant worry

Stress is commonly regarded as a response to an external cause (1). This could include things such as a big test at school, an argument with a loved one, or a deadline at work. The stress typically subsides once the situation is resolved. Since stress is caused by external factors, dealing with these situations directly can be advantageous.

On the other hand, anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to stress that is caused internally. Anxiety is defined by a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread in situations that aren’t actually threatening. (1) Unlike stress, the feeling of anxiety lingers once the threat is gone.

It is possible for anxiety to become chronic and escalate into an anxiety disorder. Common anxiety disorders in the U.S. include panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, generalized anxiety (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 Knowing the difference between anxiety and stress is a key factor in preventing the development of anxiety disorders, as well as being able to properly manage both.

 Managing everyday stress and anxiety

Alongside medical treatments for anxiety, here are some techniques that can help alleviate stress and anxiety (2):

  • Getting a proper amount of restful sleep
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Getting suitable physical activity on a daily basis
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Meditation
  • Talking to a loved one or socializing with friends or groups
  • Keeping a journal of your feelings
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Recognizing and reducing your stressors

Treatments such as therapy and even herbal supplements can help be a great source of relief when dealing with stress and anxiety.* If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, you may want to get in touch with a healthcare professional. You can also screen anonymously online for anxiety and other disorders here:

  1. Stress vs. Anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health. Mental Health First Aid USA.
  2. Stress and Anxiety. Healthline.

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