The terms stress and anxiety are often considered to be the same thing and are used interchangeably. While there are some overlapping symptoms between the two, they are distinctly different. The two are related to your body’s natural fight or flight response, which releases stress hormones. Anxiety is part of how your body responds to stress. In this article, we will look at the difference between anxiety and stress.
What is stress?
Stress is how your body responds to pressure of some kind, whether it is a threat, change, or pressure of some kind. The way your body responds can be mental, physical, or emotional. Stress is something that everyone experiences throughout their life in varying degrees, and everyone responds differently to them.
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can help motivate you to do things and concentrate on what you are doing. For example, if you have a big paper due that is stressing you out, the stress can help motivate you to get it done in time. Bad stress, on the other hand, is not good for you, especially if it becomes chronic or too overwhelming. Constant stress can lead to depression, trouble sleeping, pain, and other physical and mental health problems.
Some common stressors include:
- Pressures at home, school, or work.
- Financial problems
- Getting injured or sick
- Being too busy
- A sudden change in life, like losing your job, divorce, or death
- A traumatic experience
What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is the state of apprehension and fear experienced when anticipating a real or imagined threat, event or situation.” Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress sometimes; it is feelings of nervousness, worry, and fear. You might feel anxious before a job interview or when walking alone down a dark street, for example, and that is perfectly natural. It is your body preparing for its fight or flight reaction, so it can be healthy in small doses.
However, anxiety can become chronic and lead to anxiety disorders. For some people, anxiety can get out of control, and it may prevent them from doing things like trying something new, going to work, or spending time with friends.
Some things that can trigger anxiety include:
- Conflicts with people at work, school, or home
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Public speaking
- Financial problems
- Health problems
- Things related to a traumatic event
Is it stress or anxiety?
You are probably experiencing both stress and anxiety at the same time, but one might be more overwhelming than the other. Let’s take a look at some signs to help you tell the difference.
Is the cause internal or external?
While you can stress yourself out, stress is mostly caused by external factors. Anxiety is triggered by internal factors because it is how you react to the things causing you stress. If those stressors are removed, like you finish the big paper you have been worried about, and you still feel overwhelmed and stressed, it is most likely anxiety that you are feeling.
Is it hard to function?
Stressful situations can be hard to get through, but you can typically get through them. Anxiety, on the other hand, can make it difficult to function and manage normal daily tasks. If you become so stressed that you have a panic attack or you cannot function, you might have an anxiety disorder.
Is your reaction excessive?
There are situations that are going to be stressful for anyone, but the reaction to them is what can help you determine if you are experiencing stress or anxiety. If your reaction feels like it is bigger than it should be or is much bigger than how others are responding to the situation, it might be anxiety instead of stress.
Do you dread or fear things that haven’t happened?
When you are stressed, you are having a response to something that is happening or about to happen. Anxiety might lead you to dread, worry, or fear of something that has not and will not happen. This is another example of anxiety being linked to more internal stressors than external ones.
Stress and anxiety may be a normal reaction to life, but they can get out of control for some people. If you feel like this is taking control of your life and preventing you from functioning, it might be time to seek help for your anxiety. Talk to your doctor, seek out therapy, or try other ways to cope. The first step is to acknowledge your anxiety so that you can begin to take control of your life.