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What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are both normal human feelings that are natural responses to worrying and threatening situations.

Either one of the two emotions can become overwhelming and unmanageable, often requiring professional mental health support. By understanding the difference between stress and anxiety it becomes clear to distinguish where problematic areas are and where relief can be found.

The terms – stress and anxiety – are often used interchangeably as there is a fine line between them. In many situations, there is an overlap between the two emotions and they share a lot of the same physical symptoms, making it tricky to identify the differences between them. However, there are clear differences between feelings of stress and anxiety.


As with many mental health conditions, people suffering from stress will experience physical and mental symptoms, such as anger, irritability, tiredness, muscle pain, sleeplessness and digestive troubles. There is very little symptomatic difference between stress and anxiety as often, stress leads to anxiety.

A number of other mental and physical disorders are linked to stress, including depression, anxiety, strokes, heart attacks, weight gain and hypertension. Stress can show in many ways, but a few key symptoms are;

  • Feelings of a tight chest
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Low energy levels
  • Muscle tension, back or neck pain
  • Irritability
  • Low sexual desire

Each person under stress will experience varying symptoms, often changing throughout life when environmental conditions cause periods of stressful feelings.

Everyone experiences some stress in their lives, but each person may react differently or more intensely than others due to potential stressors in their life. A wide variety of environmental factors can onset stressful feelings which can be one-time, temporary or ongoing issues in someone’s life. Common factors that induce stress include:

  • Financial problems
  • Pressure from work, school or at home
  • Traumatic events such as a car crash or being a victim of a crime
  • A major change such as loss of a job, divorce or death of a relative
  • Being very busy either at work and/or home

Overwhelming stress is not good for anyone’s mental or physical health and when it persists due to factors in someone’s life that cannot be changed (ie. a traumatic event) it’s absolutely necessary to get professional help.

It is vital to understand your feelings and what they mean. Symptoms of stress shouldn’t ever be ignored and can be helped through a variety of self-help lifestyle changes as well as expert consultants which we explore in more detail later in this article.


Anxiety, although not referred to quite as frequently as stress, is still a very common feeling of fear and nervousness that everyone may experience at some point in their life, for example, before a job interview or big test.

Anxiety becomes problematic for many when it holds a significant impact on your life, controlling you in a way that prevents you from completing tasks. An anxiety disorder may prevent you from even the smallest things such as answering phone calls, going to work or meeting up with friends.

How to tell if you are experiencing stress or anxiety

The relationship between stress and anxiety causes them to be linked together in many circumstances, with stressful experiences or events often causing anxious feelings.

If you are experiencing a period of stress in your life, chances are you probably also have some anxiety too. But one feeling may be more overwhelming than the other, some tips to help you distinguish the difference between stress and anxiety are:

  • Anxiety can make it difficult to function. Typically, stressful situations are hard to get through but are manageable. An anxiety disorder can leave someone unable to complete even basic, everyday tasks. If you feel stressed to the point of being unable to go to work, school or be in certain situations, then an underlying anxiety disorder is probably to blame.
  • Anxiety causes fear of events that don’t exist or haven’t happened. Although this will also cause feelings of stress, a common trait of an anxiety disorder is to be increasingly worried about previous events or things that have never happened that become malformed in the mind as they are dwelled on.
  • Panic attacks are a specific characteristic of anxiety disorder. A symptom such as suffering from panic attacks is a tell-tale sign that you are suffering from more than just typical stress.
  • Stress is usually caused by external factors. Although it can be caused by our minds, stress is most commonly caused by environmental factors that have an impact on our lives, whereas anxiety can be caused by overthinking, even when sometimes nothing is wrong in life.

Treatment for stress and anxiety

Minor stress can normally be dealt with through simple changes to your lifestyle. For example, by completing a long project that has drained your mental capacity for an extended period of time. Sometimes, once work is completed and you get home to a relaxed environment you may feel far better. Even just a small weekend break can completely relieve stress in a lot of people in busy jobs.

However, when looking at the difference between stress and anxiety, anxiety is rarely managed just through changes to someone’s lifestyle. It is often necessary to be treated through therapy and/or medication before it excels to a worsened state.

1 in 6 people in the UK will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life and if left untreated it can become debilitating or crippling. It has a huge impact on someone’s ability to complete activities they once enjoyed and very often leads to depression which can make it more complex to treat.

Coping with stress:

  • Meditation and breathing techniques. One of the best ways to cope with stress is to practise breathing exercises; Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
  • Exercise. Getting active with a daily dose of exercise releases positive endorphins in the mind helping to relieve stress.
  • Creativity. Practising doing something you love creatively, whether it be painting, playing an instrument or gardening, finding something you can switch off from the outside world and concentrate on is a proven way to reduce stress levels.
  • Music. Listening to relaxing and soothing music is also a proven way to relieve stress.

Coping with anxiety:

  • Psychotherapy. Talk therapy is a highly effective way to help people identify, process and come to terms with the causes of anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a short-term solution to help people learn skills that target their specific anxiety triggers
  • Medication. Although medication should not be considered until after therapy and consultation with a professional, antidepressants typically have some mild side effects but help alleviate some symptoms of anxiety.
  • Lifestyle changes. Including all the above stress coping techniques, small lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Talk to Claimont Health today

At some point in their life, everyone experiences periods of stress, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Learning to manage your stress and when to seek help is vital for anybody prone to these feelings. When stress no longer feels like it is manageable and it’s having a controlling influence over your life, and symptoms of anxiety interfere with your day-to-day, it’s time to seek an evaluation from a professional.

If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, make sure you get in contact with a professional for help. Claimont are here to provide the treatment you need for anxiety and stress in your own familiar and comfortable surroundings.

Contact us today for more.