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What is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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The difference between stress and anxiety can often be hard to determine, because the two exhibit very similar symptoms, and can even have the same cause. One of the main differences between stress and anxiety is that stress typically has a clearly identifiable cause set in the present, whereas anxiety may be a more general feeling of fear about what might happen in the future, without a definitive cause.

Stress and anxiety can be caused by similar situations. These might include being too busy at work, having to speak in front of a crowded room, or worrying about finishing a project to the standards of a boss. One important difference between stress and anxiety, however, is that anxiety without cause can be classified as a mental disorder, and can progress to phobias or additional mental disorders.

Stress, on the other hand, is never qualified as a mental disorder. People with persistent anxiety may find relief by talking with a therapist or taking anti-anxiety medication; other options may include relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, or by attempting to face certain fears in order to overcome them. Anxiety may be a lifelong condition that needs to be managed.

Stress, on the other hand, is typically a temporary problem, and can be managed by overcoming the sources of stress. For instance, if one is stressed about not having enough time to complete a project at work, a way to eliminate stress might be to ask for an extension. Stress caused by arguing with a spouse may be helped by working on communication techniques. Once the source of the stress is removed, the stress should disappear as well.

Stress and anxiety can be equally debilitating, however, and can cause similar symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, even nausea and a racing heart. Over time, these effects from stress and anxiety can be very detrimental to overall health, so it is important to manage these issues as soon as possible. Persistent stress can lead to high blood pressure, stroke or a heart attack, for example.

One excellent way to manage stress and anxiety is to get some daily exercise. Even a short walk at lunchtime can make a big difference. Cutting back on caffeine and getting enough sleep are also important, as well as eating a healthy diet. Taking steps to managing anxiety and stress can be a positive step towards a healthier lifestyle, and overall mood and energy level improvement.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By sneakers41 — On Nov 21, 2010

Subway11- I think that sometimes the stimuli might be a specific person or event.

The doctor would then use a form of behavioral modification in order to get the patient to slowly change their way of thinking toward a specific act.

In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, doctors also prescribe antidepressants because anxiety disorders are also considered stress depression and anxiety as well.

I read an interesting fact that many stress and anxiety disorders occur in female alcoholics. A large portion of them suffer from agoraphobia which is the fear of being far away from home by yourself.

This explains the alcoholism because people suffering from stress depression and anxiety also have a higher tendency to form an addictive personality.

Sometimes the anxiety manifests itself in alcohol and sometimes it is in food or drugs. These addictions can also be a result of symptoms of stress and anxiety.

By subway11 — On Nov 21, 2010

Icecream17-Coping with stress and anxiety is difficult because the person suffering from this condition often does resorts to catastrophic thinking and feeling that the worst case scenario will occur.

This is why when they discuss their feelings with people that are not suffering from this condition, people say that they worry too much about things, but in reality someone with anxiety and stress symptoms is fearful of the future and much stressed. The stress and anxiety symptoms are very real.

Severe stress and anxiety can lead to worthless feelings, lack of energy, recurring nightmares, trembling hands, excessive worry and irritability. Cognitive behavior therapy is used in stress and anxiety treatment. Often the psychiatrist will work with the patient on what triggers the episodes of anxiety and offers actionable steps to take in order to combat these episodes. ften say that they worry too much about things,

By icecream17 — On Nov 21, 2010

Sometimes stress and anxiety is increased when a person suffers from excessive worrying that leads to anxiety.

In reality, the person may not be experiencing anything out of the ordinary, but their debilitating anxiety and worry causes them more stress than the average person in the same circumstances.

These people generally make a “Mountain out of a molehill” but to them the stress and anxiety is very real. This stress and anxiety disorder can be treated but never cured.

Anxiety and stress symptoms can lead to excessive worrying, poor concentration, irritability, and fatigue. Many doctors use a holistic approach when treating people with anxiety and stress.

In order to relieve severe stress and anxiety a doctor will prescribe antidepressants and cognitive behavior therapy for treating stress and anxiety.

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