Differences Between Stress and Anxiety: Why It’s Important To Know

  • Time to read: 5 min.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety and stress in your life. After all, these are natural reactions to the challenges we face on a daily basis. However, there can be a big difference between the two. Stress is a response to a specific situation, while anxiety is a more general feeling of worry or unease.

Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety can be important for your mental health. That’s because if you’re only experiencing stress, there are typically specific things you can do to address the issue and feel better. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with anxiety, it may be more helpful to seek professional help in order to manage your symptoms.

Stress and Anxiety Causes

The physical symptoms that arise from stress and anxiety include headaches and muscle tension but can also cause emotional symptoms, like irritability and mood swings. Both stress and anxiety are normal reactions to life stressors, but they can become problematic when constant or overwhelming.

The most beneficial way to manage stress and anxiety is to understand the causes and learn healthy coping skills.

What is Stress?

Stress is your body’s response to a real or perceived threat, while anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear. Stress can be short-term, like when preparing for an exam, or long-term when dealing with a chronic illness. 

There are many potential causes of stress, including work, family, and personal relationships. In addition, some people may also experience stress due to medical conditions or medications. 

Stress can arise from a one-time event, such as a job interview, or the stress may become chronic, such as job insecurity.

Everyone experiences stress differently and to different degrees, further ingraining how individual we all are. Additionally, anything that causes anxiety can also cause stress. 

Stress is often caused by factors outside of your control, like a demanding job or a family crisis, while anxiety can be caused by genetics or lifestyle choices, like drinking too much caffeine. You can manage stress by using relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga, while you can manage anxiety with these techniques as well, therapy and medication will also be helpful.

Stress occurs within us, physically and emotionally, to any demand placed on our bodies. It arises from good and bad events, such as a job promotion, childbirth, or a traumatic event.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the internal feeling of unease that can vary in intensity and can be due to stress, but it can also exist independently. For example, when you’re waiting for test results or long-term when you go to a job you do not enjoy, anxiety takes over every day of your life.

A significant event, like a job interview or a first date, may give rise to us feeling anxious, which is normal. However, anxiety is more constant for some people and can interfere with their daily lives. Even though anxiety can be caused by stress, it often has its own triggers, such as a social situation or public speaking.

There are many potential causes of anxiety, including genetics, family history, and past experiences. In addition, some medical conditions can also cause anxiety, such as thyroid problems, heart disease, and diabetes. There are even certain medications whose side effects include anxiety. Lastly, some people may also develop anxiety due to substance abuse or withdrawal.

How are Stress and Anxiety Similar?

Stress and anxiety are not bad or good; they are a standard part of our everyday functioning throughout life. However, if not managed, they can cause physical and emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms, like headaches and muscle tension, or emotional symptoms like irritability and mood swings, are commonly a part of stress and anxiety. The University of Rochester Medical Center links constant stress and anxiety to high blood pressure and heart disease.

The Differences Between Stress and Anxiety

The critical difference between stress and anxiety is that stress goes away once the event causing it is over, while anxiety can linger long after the trigger has disappeared.  The lingering anxiety is why it’s essential to know the difference, as untreated anxiety can lead to many mental and physical health problems.

If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, it’s important to seek help from a professional.

What Causes a Person to Experience Stress or Anxious Feelings?

Several life situations can cause a person to feel stress or anxiety, such as job demands, family problems, or financial pressure. How each of us copes with the stressor determines what degree we will be stressed or feel anxiety.

We will likely feel less stress and anxiety if we have tools to help us, such as mindfulness, relaxation, physical movement, and an excellent social network.

How Is Stress and Anxiety Diagnosed?

A health care provider will usually ask about your symptoms and medical history and may complete a physical exam to make sure it is not another condition. They may also order tests, like blood work or a stress test.

If your symptoms lead to you experiencing anxiety, your health care provider may refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

Treatment for Stress and Anxiety

We are all a beautiful puzzle, figuring out which piece goes where. The treatment for stress and anxiety is a part of this puzzle.  Most people find stress can be managed by using relaxation techniques, deep breathing, or participating in yoga or pilates.

In contrast, anxiety often requires professional help and can be treated with medication and therapy.

For those who choose to go it alone, a pet such as a fish, dog, or cat is helpful, and others find a hobby or a physical activity that refocuses their attention to be beneficial.

Prevention of Stress and Anxiety

For anxiety, it’s essential to identify the triggers and find ways to cope with them, which might involve learning relaxation techniques and/or seeking professional help.

You can do things to prevent stress and lessen or eliminate anxiety by getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.  Drugs and alcohol can make stress and anxiety worse for several reasons:

  1. They can lead to dependence and addiction, increasing stress levels.
  2. They can interfere with sleep, which can worsen anxiety.
  3. They can impair judgment and decision-making, leading to risky behaviors that may result in more stress.
  4. They can increase feelings of paranoia and isolation, which can further worsen anxiety.

Final Thoughts

It’s easier & healthier to utilize tools such as yoga or deep breathing to manage your life, rather than letting stress and anxiety manage you.

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