It is common to experience stress and anxiety in our lives. 75% of people report moderate to high stress in the past month. And anxiety disorders affect millions of people every year.
You can manage stress and anxiety symptoms. But to do this, you need to distinguish the effects of stress and the effects of anxiety.
So, stress vs. anxiety: what are the differences?
From the outside, it can feel like anxiety and stress are the same. Symptoms can be similar, and both can impact your quality of life. But knowing the difference between the two will help you take the best next steps.
Read on for everything you need to know about stress vs. anxiety!
Stress vs. Anxiety Differences
There are more differences than similarities between anxiety and stress. These differences help you identify if you are experiencing day-to-day stress. Or whether you are experiencing something more severe like an anxiety disorder.
Stress makes you feel overwhelmed. You might feel you cannot cope with pressures that need attention. It causes emotional, physical, and psychological difficulties.
Stress is not a mental health diagnosis. However, it can trigger mental health problems or negatively impact current issues.
Anxiety is excessive worry. It is characterized by a persistent feeling of fear or dread. Around 40 million people experience anxiety in the US.
Anxiety can lead to a mental health diagnosis. There are several anxiety disorders. The DSM-5 lists phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, PTSD, and others.
Stress is usually caused by an external trigger, such as a work deadline. It can be positive as your body goes into its flight or fight response. Back in the day, this would help you survive threats.
However, threats now are different; they are mostly not life or death situations. So frequent stress is not positive.
Anxiety is also your body’s response to threats. However, the triggers are perceived internal and external threats. It can be about situations that have not happened yet, do not exist, and worst-case scenarios.
Sometimes you cannot identify a trigger.
Stress Length of Time
Stress is usually short-term or in short bursts. Frequent triggers or an ongoing trigger can cause chronic stress, which lasts longer. If stress gets you through one deadline, that can feel good, but its adverse effects can linger.
Anxiety Length of Time
Anxiety likes to hang around, even once a particular threat has gone away. Usually, it just shifts itself onto a new threat. Symptoms can feel worse at times.
Stress effects long-term can pose health risks and impact functioning. An example is the risk of heart disease or heart attack. However, once the threat is over, stress can go away.
You might be able to continue with activities. If you neglect to find stress relief, it can begin to impact daily life.
Anxiety can have a debilitating impact on lives. Excessive worries, and intrusive thoughts, can inhibit daily functioning. It can impact relationships and many activities.
Stress and Anxiety Symptoms
Stress and anxiety symptoms can overlap. There are many similarities, but some differences too. If you are not sure, monitor how long the symptoms last.
Effects of Stress
It is estimated that 70-95% of doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Some common effects of stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Stomach problems such as constipation
- Irritability, low mood, moodiness, anger
- Rapid heartbeat
- Frequent headaches
- Frequent illness
- Fatigue and low energy
- Loss of sex drive
- Disturbed sleep
- Poor concentration
- Muscle tension and pain
Stress manifests in people in different emotional and physical ways. Effects of stress can flare-up, or reduce over time.
Take note of any symptoms you experience. Then you can begin to recognize early warning signs that you feel stressed.
Effects of Anxiety
You can experience the same emotional and physical effects of stress with anxiety. However, some more symptoms distinguish anxiety:
- Difficulty controlling worry
- Feelings of fear, dread, and unease
- Startled responses and sensitivity to noise
Anxiety symptoms usually last for weeks or even months. The intensity of worry is generally disproportionate to the perceived threat. Symptoms can worsen over time.
Manage Stress and Anxiety Symptoms
Stress can trigger anxiety. Whatever symptoms you are experiencing, there are ways you can manage them. Learn how to differentiate stress vs. anxiety to treat the symptoms in the best way.
When you notice stress kicking in, take action. You will work a lot better if you give yourself a break to alleviate the stress. Some ways you can do this are:
- Listen to music or do an activity you enjoy
- Deep breathing
- Mindfulness such as meditation
- Get outside
There are many relaxation breathing techniques. A good one to try is the 4-7-8 technique. You breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight seconds.
If stress symptoms persist, visit a healthcare professional. You may benefit from talk therapy to identify triggers and develop ways to get stress relief.
Short-term, you can try the mental health tips for stress relief. But if you think you are experiencing anxiety, visit a healthcare professional. They can advise treatment dependable on your anxiety symptoms and possible diagnosis.
You may get prescribed medication to help manage your symptoms. This can help reduce anxiety while you have treatment.
Therapy helps get to the root causes and triggers. It helps reduce anxiety, understand, and manage it. Common treatments include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychotherapy (talking therapy), and Exposure Therapy.
CBT helps you change destructive patterns of behavior. Talking therapy can help identify anxiety triggers. And exposure therapy focuses on helping the patient confront the perceived threats.
Stress vs. Anxiety: Which one?
There are many differences between stress vs. anxiety. But never dismiss either of them. Both can be extremely difficult to experience.
It is important to know you are not alone. Many people experience anxiety and stress in their lifetime. Even if there is no apparent cause, your feelings are valid, and the symptoms are treatable.
If you learn how to identify and manage stress and anxiety symptoms, you will be on your way to recovery. The next step is to get help if you need it. You do not have to fight this alone.
D’Amore Mental Health is Orange County’s leading anxiety treatment center. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.