Stress and Anxiety: What's the Difference?

Everyone experiences some stress and anxiety in their life. Anxiety and stress can make you feel tense, jittery, and apprehensive. Anxiety and stress symptoms are similar but there are some important differences between the two.

Some amount of stress is a normal part of life. It energizes and motivates us to study or work harder.... but too often we suffer from too much stress which can lead to fatigue and illness.

Many of the main causes of stress are life changes (such as divorce or relationship conflicts) and other situations such as work deadlines.

Thoughts can also cause stress. Worry about finances or job security are some common causes of stress.

Basically stress is caused by something that is either outside of us or within us.

Stress has identifiable stressors.

That is why a first step of a stress management plan should be to identify the signs of stress with a stress diary.

Some of the common physical stress symptoms are shallow, rapid breathing and excess muscle tension which can result in atension headache.

But what is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Firstly we need to answer the question: "What is anxiety?"

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is difficult to define...even the experts don't agree!

Basically anxiety is characterized by the feeling of apprehension or fear. This results in physiological changes in the body such as:

  • increased heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • dizziness
  • sleeping difficulties
  • trouble concentrating
  • lower libido or sexual problems

This is quite similar to some of the symptoms of stress.

At the same time the situation that is the cause of anxiety is something that you seek to escape from.

So for somebody who fears crowds they may adjust their lives so that they are not surrounded by crowds.

For me, I fear heights!

Whenever I go to the edge of a cliff (even when it is fenced!!) my heart starts pounding, my breathing speeds up, and I immediately look to get away from the high place.

My irrational anxiety of heights does not affect my life in any major way so for me it is not really worthy of concern.

But if I replaced word "heights" with "social situations" then it would impact on my life in a significant way and possible be an anxiety disorder.

There are several types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized anxiety disorder. If you have persistent and overwhelming worry about harm to you or your family, concerns about your job, money, or health; when there is no sign of immediate danger then this is characteristic of people who suffer generalized anxiety disorder.

Typically this type of anxiety disorder involves thoughts that focus on "What if...?" scenarios.

Anxiety attacks. Also known as panic attacks, these are another type of anxiety disorder which arises for no identifiable reason.

Typically the person who suffers from an anxiety attack has a feeling of impending doom, or imminent danger which can last for several minutes.

Stress can influence panic attacks

Social anxiety disorder. If you fear being judged by others negatively or being embarrassed around others, for no particular reason, and this causes you to limit or withdrawal from social situations then you may be suffering from social phobia or social anxiety disorder.

Other anxiety disorders include:

Search here for other stress and anxiety resources

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