Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

Posted on November 19, 2021

Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

If your feeling overwhelmed, you might be thinking your stressed or could it be anxiety? Stress and anxiety are both natural emotional and can sometimes be physical responses to change, feeling under pressure or threatened. We can all experience this at any given time and everyone experiences it to different lengths. Each person can have unique triggers to stress or anxiety.

Stress is very common, a healthy response to any stimulus and can sometimes even be motivating to help us achieve goals in life like meeting demands in our personal and professional life. It is when we don’t recognise the stressors (what creates this stress) and it occurs quite often that it starts to affect our mood, body, relationships, eating habits, sleeping patterns and feels like everything is out of control. It can sometimes lead to making us feel anxious and irritable. Experiencing stress over a long period of time, where it feels like you are trapped in a box, can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.

To avoid getting to this point, here are some tips to help you manage stress.

  • Split up tasks in order of priority, especially if you feel like you have the world on your shoulders. Split bigger tasks into smaller parts and reward yourself for achieving the goals.
  • Be grateful – think about the good things in your life and list 3 things that your thankful for or gone well in the day.
  • Being positive – The way we think affects the way we feel. By gradually changing every negative word/thought into a positive one can enforce positive action.
  • Practice mindfulness – this could mean focusing on your breathing, using online guided meditation, or just doing an activity like reading or gardening or something you enjoy.
  • Be more active – regular exercise or walks in the nature can help release endorphins, your feel-good hormones. This can help reduce the intensity of stress.
  • Talk to someone – talk to a close member of family, friend or colleague or use a helpline talking to someone professional. This can give you a new insight and possibly a helping hand.
  • Improve sleep – this can be a cycle but getting enough sleep is important for our brains to function efficiently.
  • Plan – by planning ahead and getting organised, allocating tasks, eliminating any stressors that could potentially be created on the way can make your life all that simpler.
  • Avoid stimulants – like alcohol, caffeine, too many carbohydrates/sugars which can feel good in the moment but can create havoc in our bodies with hormones, balancing sugar, depleting nutrients, dehydrating the body and can be addictive.

Anxiety is another emotion everyone experiences at some stage, and it is normal. It is a feeling of fear, worry or nervousness. Stress and anxiety often go together, with stressful events triggering feelings of anxiety. When it becomes constant and starts to affect our health (showing physical symptoms of increased heartbeat, sweating, feeling suffocated) and affecting daily life (not being able to socialise, feeling depressed, not motivated in usual tasks), it should be acknowledged and actioned upon.

Spotting the difference between the two:

  • Stress is commonly caused by external factors like responsibilities. Anxiety is how you react to stressors.
  • If the reaction is unusual and excessive, beyond the reactions of others, it is more likely to be anxiety.
  • Stressful situations are more manageable whereas anxiety disorders can leave you completely unable to manage everyday tasks and can show more physical symptoms that can be visible.
  • Anxiety is internal and can leave feelings of dread and fear and not directly a reaction to anything immediate.

If you have experienced any trauma, physical symptoms are occurring more often or the anxiousness is more often, you are not able to complete daily tasks and are on medication, then professional help should be considered.