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How Does Anxiety Differ From Stress?

Stress is your body’s response to pressure because of inevitable external demands. When stressed, you may feel agitated, nervous or frustrated from the workload placed on your brain. Anxiety is a persistent feeling of unease without a particular cause.

Although stress and anxiety are both normal human reactions necessary for every individual life experience, they can each become debilitating and problematic when chronic.

Understanding Stress And Anxiety

Stress is the perception of threat, resulting in emotional tension, difficulty adjusting and, in severe cases, anxiety discomfort. It is an individual’s reaction to external events or demand, your personal response to pressure, tension and change in circumstances. Stress cannot be avoided as we all have demands placed on us at work, school, in our relationship and in every aspect of our lives.

A moderate amount of stress can spur you to meet demands, however, it can be detrimental when in excess. This becomes acute stress and leads to anxiety, which can also become anxiety disorders when excessive.

Everyone stresses at different times of life. A student stresses about his grades, a wife stresses about her husband and children, an entrepreneur stresses about his business. Stress is a constant part of daily life and human experience.

Anxiety is the feelings you have when you think an unpleasant event is about to happen. Feelings of apprehension, uncertainty, nervousness, fear. It is a normal human reaction to perceived threats but can also become debilitating and restrict functionality when at high levels.

This results in anxiety disorder such as phobia, Panic Attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, agoraphobia and others. Anxiety occurs in different ways:

  • Some people are born with a higher tendency of being anxious compared to others
  • Others develop anxiety after being through certain situations that are traumatic.
  • Anxiety can also be learnt through the influence of other people’s actions. For example, children who are exposed to their parents or significant adults’ fear can grow up developing the same type of fear, such as phobias of specific things.
  • There are also cases where anxiety has no trigger point, it just happens.

Stress and anxiety are both intertwined, where one arises from pressure to meet demands, the other is the feeling generated when you are in dangerous situations, your fight-or-flight mode response for adapting to conditions.

What Are The Signs Of Stress And Anxiety (Distinct And Separate Signs)

Both anxiety and stress have so much in common just as much as they are also separate feelings. Symptoms of stress and anxiety can be physical, psychological, or emotional.

Distinct symptoms of stress include:

Physical symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Twitching
  • Teeth grinding
  • Constipation
  • Frequent colds
  • Chills
  • Back pain
  • Breathing difficulties

Emotional symptoms

  • Frustration
  • Mood swings
  • Short temper or quick to anger
  • Agitation
  • Irritability and impatience
  • Forgetfulness
  • Defensiveness
  • Fear and anxiety

Mental symptoms

  • Indecisiveness
  • Negative attitude
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Constant worrying
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Negative attitude
  • Constant criticism and complaints
  • Withdrawal

Social symptoms

  • Isolation
  • Intolerance
  • Sexual problems
  • Loneliness and distrust
  • Hiding and fewer contacts with friends

Physical symptoms of anxiety

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Frequent use of the toilet
  • Shaking and feeling sick
  • Increased perspiration and palpitations
  • Choking sensation and tightness around the chest region
  • Shortness of breath and hot flashes

Psychological symptoms

  • Feeling detached from people around you and your environment
  • Feeling on edge
  • Constantly worrying that people are looking at you negatively
  • Thinking you might have a heart attack
  • Lightheadedness and fear of embarrassing yourself
  • Feeling like you should run away or escape from situations

Common symptoms of stress and anxiety include the following, however, they are not limited to these signs.

Physical symptoms

  • Unexplained choking feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and/or changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Stomach upsets
  • Pounding heart
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Overwhelming emotions
  • Anticipation

Psychological symptoms

  • Irrational fear and anger
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Blanking out

Causes Of Stress And Anxiety

Stress can be caused by situations and pressures called stressors. They may be external and internal conditions, while anxiety may not necessarily have a trigger source, although it can be a reaction to stress. Here are some causes of stress and anxiety.

Life Strains

Every individual in their life experiences pressures from demands, expectations, and/or past events. It could be pressure from work, financial issues, relationship problems, or medical conditions. The most important thing to note is that stress varies for everyone.

What you consider to be stressors might not really be what the next person thinks of. For some people, it could be an academic test, interviews, presentations, change in environment, business condition, and health issues.


A pessimistic attitude and negative affirmations may lead to stress. Your brain and body adapt to familiar behaviors that eventually reflect in your thinking and actions. So if you keep putting yourself down and think you are not capable, you will be pressured when more or something out of your comfort zone is expected of you.


A perfectionist is someone with extremely high expectations, displeased by things that do not meet their high standards. Does this sound like you? Do you feel everyone and everything has to go your way without considering how your team or the other person feels?. Unrealistic expectations can cause stress, especially when some of these goals are unreasonable.

Specific stressful events

Trauma, violence, abuse can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder characterized by guilt, numbness, recurrent thoughts, overthinking, anxiety. These past events can put a strain on your mental health and limit productivity and functionality. When these thoughts reoccur, they can trick the sufferer to believe that they cause their problems, targeting their self-esteem, self-worth, and values.

How Is Stress Related To Anxiety

Pressure placed on your brain and body from demands is stress. It is usually triggered by events that make you nervous and frustrated. Anxiety, on its own, is the sensation of fear, worry, and unease, often without a specific source. Stress can become chronic or acute, resulting in anxiety or anxiety disorders.

image of how does anxiety differ from stress

These disorders can be of specific events and conditions or sometimes without a particular reason. Stress and anxiety are both normal in every human life. While stress may motivate you to achieve goals and maybe supersede expectations, anxiety alerts you to threatening situations.

Your body’s fight-or-flight mode is activated to pump adrenaline for faster actions and adaptation. Alcohol, Medications or underlying medical conditions can aggregate stress and increase your anxiety levels. Stressed can occur from academic activities and having so much going on in your life.

It could also be at your workplace, tasks to be concluded keep piling up and you do not know how to resolve them. You might also be a family man facing financial difficulties, your bills are accumulating and your budget is not enough to sustain you.

Or maybe it is a relationship problem, you’ve met this new guy or lady and you are constantly thinking of how to please them or how they would see you.

How Does Anxiety Differ From Stress

As much as stress and anxiety have commonalities, they also have a variety of differences.

    • Stress is often short term, while anxiety can linger for a longer period or a lifetime if untreated.
    • Stress may disrupt some aspect of your life, while anxiety affects overall functionality.
    • Stress is caused by stressors that are mostly external. Anxiety is an excessive reaction to stress.
    • Stress is often because of an internal or external factor. Anxiety causes fear, worry, and overthinking of things that are nonexistent.
    • When stress results in anxiety with an increase in anxiety levels, it leads to anxiety disorders.

There are different common types of anxiety disorders, with some also leading to mental problems if left untreated.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder, characterized by uncontrollable worry.
  • Panic Disorder, resulting in panic attacks
  • Specific Phobia, irrational fear of particular objects or situations.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, constant unwanted thoughts that become obsessions.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), occurs because of past trauma.


It is obvious that stress and anxiety are not the same, however, they may appear confusing if you don’t understand how each of them works. Stress is easily detected, while anxiety can occur for a long time without being spotted. Often, people who suffer from anxiety think it is just their body’s way of reacting, even when anxiety is at high levels.

They seem to think they are born worriers. When stressed, take a break to think and reevaluate how you can solve the problem rather than focusing on negative emotions that result in anxiety. Be cautious of your emotions, responses and people or things that influence you, set realistic goals, discard unhealthy choices.

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