Anxiety vs Stress: How To Tell The Difference

a woman is feeling anxiety | Feature | Anxiety vs. Stress: How To Tell The Difference
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Anxiety and stress are two common terms that are often used interchangeably. While anxiety and stress are related and may result from the other, knowing their differences significantly aids in addressing the symptoms and determining the appropriate treatment. Read more to learn how to tell the difference between anxiety and stress. 


In this article:


  1. Anxiety vs. Stress: An Overview
  2. Symptoms: Anxiety vs. Stress
  3. Who is at Risk?
  4. How to Manage Anxiety and Stress


Anxiety vs. Stress: How are They Different?


Anxiety vs. Stress: an Overview


a man is being stress and using his hands to cover face | Anxiety vs. Stress: an Overview | Anxiety vs. Stress: How To Tell The Difference


Stress is the body’s response to demands and tensions usually caused by external factors. It is characterized by an automatic and intuitive response known as “fight and flight” to defend us from danger. 


While stress is often associated with negative scenarios, it could also result from a positive occurrence. This is called eustress or positive stress experienced in events such as an upcoming holiday, wedding ceremony, or pregnancy. 


Anxiety, on the other hand, is an internal reaction to stress. It is the fear or worry about real or imagined future circumstances brought about by stressful situations. Anxiety is a normal state people go through as in life. However, when anxiety becomes recurring and interferes with daily life and social interaction, medical intervention may be needed to address this. 


Anxiety and stress root back to the human’s need for survival and well-being. For instance, in the modern-day, one may worry about his job because it is the primary source of income needed to afford basic needs. In some cases, stress and anxiety result from micro threats or micro stressors such as traffic, deadlines, and mortgage, that builds over time. 


Symptoms: Anxiety vs. Stress


a man frustrated with the laptop on the desk | Symptoms: Anxiety vs. Stress | Anxiety vs. Stress: How To Tell The Difference


Anxiety and stress may exhibit similar physiological, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. 


Signs and symptoms of stress include:


  • Difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Having a negative feeling about one’s self
  • Avoidance and isolation
  • Low energy
  • Digestive problems
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Rapid heartbeat and chest pains
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Compromised immune system
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Changes in appetite – eating less or eating too much
  • Procrastination and avoidance
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting nervous behaviors such as fidgeting, nail-biting, clenched jaws, and teeth grinding


Meanwhile, the familiar anxiety signs and symptoms include:


  • Feeling tense and nervous
  • Having palpitations or an increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble focusing and concentrating
  • Obsessing on the future worries
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • Procrastination and avoidance


Because people react differently to specific situations, the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety may vary per individual. Prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, panic disorder, and depression. 


Who is at Risk?


People of all sorts may experience stress and anxiety in their life. However, some may be more vulnerable. Factors that may increase the risk of developing anxiety disorder include:


  • Experiencing a traumatic event or being a witness to one
  • Having mental health disorder such as depression 
  • Stress due to a major event or build-up of micro stressors
  • Stress due to health conditions or illness
  • Hereditary factors; having a relative with mental health issues
  • Drug or alcohol misuse


How to Manage Anxiety and Stress


Events that cause anxiety and stress are inevitable, but you can do things to handle the symptoms. The following are some of the self-help tips you can do to manage stress and anxiety:


Know Your Triggers


Identify which aspects of daily life triggers your stress and anxiety. You can write a journal to see the pattern and determine a solution whenever a similar stressor comes along.


Take a Time-out


Give yourself a break to process your thoughts and emotions. You may practice meditation, listen to calming music, or treat yourself to a massage. 


Limit Your Caffeine and Alcohol Intake


Caffeine is a stimulant that may cause jittery and aggravate the symptoms of anxiety. On the other hand, alcohol affects serotonin levels and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which may lead to worsening anxiety.


Exercise Regularly


Exercise and other physical activity produce the brain chemicals dopamine and endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body. 


Talk it Out


Letting other people around you know what you are going through may give you support and help reduce your stress and anxiety. If you feel more comfortable opening up to a stranger, you may talk to a professional therapist to help address your anxiety problems without any judgment.


Anxiety and stress are the body’s natural response to threatening or pressing events. In some ways, these responses allow us to accomplish tasks and recognize danger. However, stress and anxiety could take a toll on your daily life and health when prolonged. Consult a mental health professional to help manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

How do you deal with daily stress and anxiety? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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