Are Stress and Anxiety the Same? Find Out with These 7 Key Facts

How many times have we heard something along the lines of “You are just stressed. Don’t overthink and you’ll be fine”, “Stop worrying me. You are going to give me anxiety” or “Just get adequate sleep and all your anxiety will go away”. That’s right. Too many.

These terms are often used interchangeably but are stress and anxiety the same thing?

Stress and Anxiety
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1. Introduction

You were having a good day, great weather, you put on your favorite t-shirt, and your crush smiled at you during class.

But then you get the date sheet for your finals. You start having anxious thoughts of failure. You isolate yourself to study and stay up late for revision. Sometimes you would suddenly feel intense terror like you are having a heart attack.

And Congratulations! You passed. That too with flying colors. But the sense of dread doesn’t go away. You would still get dizzy sometimes. You tell your friends about this but they don’t understand why you would still feel stressed when the exams are over.

Exam Stress
Photo by Pexels.

 People have been getting more and more “woke” about mental health but still, there are times when terms such as ‘Depression’ and ‘Anxiety’ are thrown around carelessly.

 As of 2017, 284 million people worldwide suffered from some form of anxiety disorder, but it still stays misunderstood. Not only anxiety but stress is also something that is taken lightly. And more often than not people confuse Anxiety with Stress and vice versa or believe they are the same. They are not.

 To understand how they are different and how to cope with each of them let’s take a look at what exactly are ‘Stress’ and ‘Anxiety’ separately.

2. What is Stress

What is Stress
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 “Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation” (-WHO)

 “The physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors.” (-APA)

 The keyword here is the situation or external stressor. The feeling of unease or worry that is caused due to natural response to a trigger is stress. When things in our life take a negative turn, or we are faced with new responsibilities out of nowhere, we get stressed.

 Many stress triggers act as great motivators for achieving a task. This type of stress is called Eustress. However, if you will feel your control over life slipping out of your fingers, your stress level can harm your mental and physical health.

 These types of triggers for stress could be of many forms which is our next section- Sources of stress

2.1 What Causes Stress

Extreme stress
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Many sources in our daily life can cause stress. Following are some classifications of those causes.

2.1.1 Environmental Stress

Whether it’s nosy neighbors or family conflicts, bad weather or fear of your house being broken into. From the most mundane of things to worrisome situations that are hard to adjust to can stress you out

2.1.2 Societal Stress

Everyone has at least once in their life been forced to attend a social gathering that they never wanted to be a part of. The responsibilities that come with your roles in society can sometimes overwhelm you.

2.1.3 Physiological Stress

Pulling an all-nighter to finish your office work or your assignment that is due tomorrow can be stressful not only mentally but because of the physical strain you put on yourself. 

2.1.4 Stress From Your Thoughts

As David Sedaris once said, “Everyone looks retarded once you set your mind to it”. The amount of stress you have also depends on your perception of life events.

The first three are external factors and the last one is the internal factor.

2.2 What Are The Types Of Stress?

There are mainly 2 types of stress-

2.2.1 Acute stress

The type of stress you would likely prefer out of the two as it does not stay for long, specifically, 3 days to 4 weeks. 

2.2.2 Chronic Stress 

Chronic stress is an uninvited guest who does not take the hint that they are uninvited and continue to stay for months and disrupt your peace. 

2.3 Are You Stressed Too?

Symptoms of stress
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There are both physical and emotional responses to psychological stress symptoms and knowing them is necessary to understand how to cope with it. 

2.3.1 Physical Symptoms-

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle Tension
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Digestive issues

2.3.2 Psychological Symptoms-

  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability, Aggression, Sadness
  • Negative thoughts

2.4 Don’t Suffer. Learn To Manage Stress

cope with stress
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Whether it’s you or your friends or family members experiencing stress, it is very underrated when it comes to mental well-being. It is necessary to learn how to manage the stress response.

2.4.1 Relaxation Procedure

Learning how to ground yourself by relaxing your muscles progressively and doing breathing exercises can help your body and mind relax.

2.4.2 Mindfulness Meditation

Stress levels can be reduced by a large amount by practicing focusing your awareness solely on the present and meditating.

2.4.3 Exercise

Sadly, transferring physical fitness through a USB cable has not been developed. Yet. So you better exercise regularly not only for good physical health but also to keep other mental health issues at bay.

2.4.4 Create A Healthy Social Network

I know this is too much to ask for, but you may find relief in spending time with family and friends (real ones).

2.4.5 Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

As I quoted David Sedaris Earlier, your perception matters. You have to set your priorities straight and set realistic goals for yourself for a peaceful mind.

You can also check out WHO’s illustrated guide to doing what matters in times of stress.

This was all about managing stress in a nutshell, now we need to understand what anxiety is.

3. What Is Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety helplessness
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 “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure”.(-APA)

“Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and worry and related behavioral disturbances.”(-WHO)

The keyword in the above definitions is the feeling of insufferable worry. Fear and anxiety are often misunderstood to be the same but there is a big difference between the two.

Anxiety is a complex psychological condition that interferes with the suffering person’s daily functioning. It requires experts’ help for treatment, whereas fear is a basic emotion experienced during anxiety.

Before learning how to deal with it, let’s take a look at the causes, symptoms and types of anxiety.

3.1 What Are The Possible Causes Of Anxiety

  • Heredity – People who had someone blood-related with some form of anxiety disorder are more likely to have anxiety when they experience triggering situations.
  • Poor health or illness – Medical illness or bad health can also trigger anxious thoughts leading to anxiety in some people.
  • Certain Personality Traits – Certain personality traits such as being controlling, perfectionist, socially awkward, neurotic etc. could be the cause of anxiety.
  • Alcohol and Drug Use – Excessive use of alcohol or drugs affect your brain and can trigger anxiety.
  • Extremely Stressful or Traumatic Experience – Sometimes dealing with life becomes a nightmare. If those situations are not dealt with healthily, it could lead to anxiety.

3.2 Different Forms Of Anxiety Disorders

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Anxiety can show itself in many forms. Following are the major anxiety disorders.

3.2.1 Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The feelings of apprehension due to extreme worry for unclear reasons for a prolonged time. 

3.2.2 Panic Disorder

When a sudden and immense rise in anxiety due to a specific trigger causes a panic attack in which the person experiences gripping terror.

3.2.3 Specific Phobia

Intense fear of a particular object or circumstance that is generally irrational.

3.2.4 Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxious thoughts of humiliation or feelings of intense fear while interacting with others.

3.2.5 Separation Anxiety Disorder

Inability to be separated from a certain place or a person without excessive anxiety that disrupts daily functioning.

3.3 How Does Anxiety Feel

Symptoms Of Anxiety
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Anxiety symptoms are similar to that of stress with varying degrees. The magnitude and duration of these symptoms are however different than stress.

  • Dizziness or Fainting
  • Palpitations and Chest pain
  • Shortness Of Breath
  • Tremors In Whole Body
  • Diarrhea
  • Profuse sweating
  • The feeling of unavoidable doom and helplessness.

Just reading about these symptoms does not provide a proper diagnosis. If in doubt, get yourself a check-up by a mental health professional. 

3.4 Give Yourself Proper Care and Treatment

Photo by cottonbro studio. Pexela

Anxiety is a psychological disorder that is not just going to go away with words like “Everything will be fine”. This sentence is not a magic wand that is going to make all bad feelings disappear.

Though support from family members and friends goes a long way, people who experience symptoms of anxiety need proper care and treatment from a mental health professional.

Following are some of the steps that can be taken to help with your anxiety.-

3.4.1 Psychotherapy

It might be very stigmatized, but most people need to go to therapy, especially those with anxiety. It is one of the best treatments.

3.4.2 Medication

A combination of therapy and medication prescribed by your doctor is the best way to treat your anxiety.

3.4.3 Healthy Eating Habits and Exercise

Your physical activity also has an impact on your mental well-being and vice versa. Go hit the gym or buy yourself a yoga mat, but take care of your diet and fitness.

3.4.4 Learn Stress Management Techniques

A lot of stress management and relaxation techniques can help you in grounding yourself while experiencing anxiety.

4. Yes, There Is A Difference Between Stress And Anxiety

Are Stress And Anxiety The Same Thing
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Let’s go back to that story earlier where I made you an anxiety patient for the sake of my article. Most people feel overwhelmed during exams but in this case, the feeling of apprehension continued even after the triggering situation is over. It is one of the symptoms of anxiety.

The key difference between the two is that stress is worrying over present situations. Anxiety is an intense feeling of dread over thoughts of the past or possibilities of the future.

Also, everyone is stressed at some point in their lives and every time it does not necessarily require help from a doctor, but Anxiety is a psychological disorder that interferes with daily life and needs to be diagnosed by a doctor.

Stress does not have any relation to heredity, but people with a family history of anxiety will be more at risk while encountering specific symptoms or anxiety triggers.

5. Relationship Between Stress And Anxiety

Although there is a fine line between the two, they also have some effects on each other. Following are some interesting examples of studies showing how stress and anxiety are affected by each other and other factors as well.

  • A study states that facing a stressful situation with increased or decreased confidence depends on the anxiety level of that person. High-anxiety individuals experience decreased confidence low-anxiety individuals experience overconfidence in stressful situations. Here’s the link to the journal.
  • Another study shows how insomnia plays a role in the relationship between stress and anxiety in university students. which means, students with insomnia and high level of stress are most likely to have high levels of anxiety too. Here’s the link to the article.
  • One study was conducted to see the relationship between stress and creativity and how anxiety and depression affect it. It was found that if a person experiences stress and anxiety, their creativity might decrease. Here’s the link for the thesis.

6. Final Thought

Whether it is stress, anxiety, depression, or any other issue, proper care is needed for everyone. And it is required to have a proper understanding to provide that care and treatment.

Last Updated on December 25, 2023 by