Stress vs. Anxiety: Knowing the difference matters to your mental health

Stress vs. Anxiety, do you know the difference?

It is not uncommon for people to be confused when it comes to both stress and anxiety. But, knowing the difference between the two might very well be the difference in the journey to feeling better.

Not surprisingly, stress and anxiety are two common mental health conditions that are often confused with one another. While they have some similarities, they are distinct conditions with different causes, symptoms, and treatments. We’ll outline a few of the major ways in which the two conditions are different and we’ll suggest some ways in which you might be able to best manage both.

What is Stress?

Stress is a normal response to challenging situations, such as a deadline at work or an argument with a loved one. You might also feel the stress response in a near miss car accident or when that occasional summertime wasp whisks around your head. It is the body’s way of preparing to take action in response to a perceived threat. Stress can be beneficial in small doses, as it can motivate us to take action and overcome challenges. However, chronic stress can have negative effects on our physical and mental health, including increased risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a persistent feeling of fear, worry, or unease that is not always tied to a specific event or situation. Unlike stress, anxiety is not always a normal response to a challenging situation, and it is not always beneficial. Anxiety can take many forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the United States, affecting around 20% of the population.

There is overlap between these two conditions. While stress and anxiety share some symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating, they also have some unique symptoms. Stress is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches, while anxiety is more likely to cause emotional symptoms, such as fear and worry. Additionally, stress is often tied to a specific event or situation, while anxiety is more general and can be ongoing.

Five ways to tell Stress vs. Anxiety apart

There a number of ways to tell Stress vs. Anxiety apart. However, the cause of the event, the symptoms you have, the duration of the episode (or episodes), the impact on your life and treatment can all be different.

  • Cause: Stress is often caused by a specific event or situation, such as a deadline at work or an argument with a loved one. Anxiety, on the other hand, is not always tied to a specific event or situation and can be more general in nature.
  • Symptoms: Stress and anxiety share some symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating. However, stress is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches, while anxiety is more likely to cause emotional symptoms, such as fear and worry.
  • Duration: Stress is often a short-term response to a specific event or situation, while anxiety is more likely to be ongoing and persistent.
  • Impact on daily life: Stress can affect daily life and productivity, but it’s often manageable with some changes in habits and lifestyle. Anxiety, on the other hand, can have a significant impact on daily life and can interfere with daily activities and relationships.
  • Treatment: Stress can often be managed through lifestyle changes, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and time management. Anxiety, on the other hand, often requires more intensive treatment, such as therapy and medication.

What should I do about Stress & Anxiety?

Treatments for stress and anxiety also differ. Stress can often be managed through lifestyle changes, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and time management. Anxiety, on the other hand, often requires more intensive treatment, such as therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance & commitment therapy (ACT) and others are commonly used form of therapy for anxiety, which helps individuals identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior. Although we here at Hanu strongly prefer a holistic approach to the resolution of mental wellness issues, medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, can also be effective in treating anxiety.

Look, stress and anxiety are different conditions that have different causes, symptoms, and treatments. Stress is a normal response to challenging situations and can be beneficial in small doses, while anxiety is a persistent feeling of fear, worry, or unease that is not always tied to a specific event or situation. Understanding the difference between stress and anxiety is important in order to seek the appropriate treatment and to manage these conditions effectively.

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