Identifying Stress Versus Anxiety

Both stress and anxiety can be challenging to cope with on a day to day basis. I’ve noticed that people often use the terms interchangeably or incorrectly, and although they share similarities, there are key differences. Let’s break it down. 

Stress occurs when an external event causes a physiological and mental strain on the body. It can come from any event, interaction, or thought and trigger tension, racing thoughts, frustration, anger, or nervousness. It’s the natural response to a challenge or demand. This could be a deadline, an upcoming social event, certain overwhelming responsibilities, major life changes, discrimination, illness, and more. We all, on some level, experience stress throughout the day and the duration of our lives.

Now all of those also sound like things that can trigger anxiety, and they certainly can; however, anxiety is a different beast. Anxiety exists with and without the presence of external life stress. It is defined by “persistent and excessive worry that does not go away even in the absence of a stressor”. Anxiety has similar physiological symptoms to stress but lasts for months, whereas stress usually subsides through coping and the absence or resolution of the stressor. 

Anxiety can elicit other issues like panic attacks, phobias, or longer bouts of depression (or vice versa). Anxiety is also held in the body. Many people who have anxiety experience tension, GI issues (looking at your IBS), trouble sleeping (thus fatigue), lack of focus or motivation, avoidance (which leads to more anxiety), rapid heart rate, and tremors. The list goes on. 

Different therapeutic approaches can address stress and anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, and Exposure Therapy are among the most common, but you and your clinician can decide on a modality and treatment path that suits your needs. We would be happy to connect to talk through what you are experiencing. Reach out today!

 Alvord, M., & Halfond, R. (2022, February 14). What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? American Psychological Association. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from

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