Is it Stress or Anxiety?

Is It Stress or Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety may seem similar, but they are not the same. Knowing the difference can help you better manage your mental health.

It can be hard to differentiate between stress and anxiety, as they frequently present many of the same symptoms, such as exhaustion, irritability, muscle tension and sleepless nights. Learning the difference, however, is key to finding the right treatment.


Some people feel stressed more often than others, but stress affects everyone from time to time. It is your body’s natural reaction to an external trigger or threat, such as an upcoming deadline at work, and its effects are generally short-term. Symptoms include:

  • Excessive worrying or feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling dizzy, faint or light-headed
  • Forgetfulness
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Headaches, muscle tension, and back or neck pain
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy or sexual desire
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trouble swallowing

There are many helpful ways of reducing symptoms of stress, such as exercising, keeping a journal, listening to relaxing music, and practicing mindfulness or relaxation breathing techniques.

If you are having difficulty managing stress or it’s affecting your daily activities, talking to a therapist can help you identify triggers and come up with coping strategies that work for you.


Anxiety comes in many forms. Generalized anxiety disorder involves disproportionate worry that occurs frequently for at least six months. It can affect your social life, work, and other daily responsibilities. Social anxiety disorder occurs when someone fears social situations in which he or she has the potential to be judged or rejected. Another common form of anxiety, panic disorder or panic attack, can show up suddenly and unexpectedly.

While symptoms can often be triggered by stress, the source of anxiety is internal, meaning the disorder does not permanently go away once the threat is removed. Symptoms vary based on anxiety disorder but can include:

  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty controlling worry or feeling a sense of impending danger
  • Feeling on edge or nervous
  • Hyperventilating
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration and feeling like your mind is blank
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Sleeplessness
  • Startling easily
  • Sweating and/or shaking

The two most common treatments for anxiety are medication and psychotherapy—often used in combination. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, can also help decrease symptoms.

Anxiety lasts longer than stress does, and it is often chronic. If you think you may have anxiety, discuss your problems with a mental health provider, who can help you learn which treatments are right for you.


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