Anxiety and Stress: Are They Different? Why Should It Matter to You?

Both anxiety and stress will most likely send you to your nearest search engine.

That search will then reveal to you that at least 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder and everyone gets stressed at times.

man with hand on his foreheadYou’ll also learn that common stress symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

A few more clicks, and you’ll discover that common anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

But wait! Aren’t those the same symptoms?

Yes, they are.

Besides increasing your anxiety and stress levels, these findings do precious little to help you understand what you’re feeling—anxiety or stress? That’s why it’s essential to dig deeper and sharpen the focus on this discussion.

Let’s Talk About Stress

Stress is a physical reaction to events in our lives. By definition, it’s neither good nor bad. We evolved a long time ago to have a fight-or-flight response to perceived threats.

Of course, the concept of “perceived threats” has also evolved, and that’s where the problem often begins. We can feel justifiable stress about something that isn’t actually visible. From there, it can become chronic and problematic.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a diagnosable mental disorder. It comes in many forms, e.g. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, and Social Anxiety.

While some symptoms can vary (and include everything listed above), perhaps the most common aspect is feeling as if we have lost control. Our anxiety takes over. We plan around it and even accept it. But when normalized like this, we may be less likely to seek help.

How the Differences and Similarities Between Anxiety and Stress Matter to You

1. Source

In general, stress arises from an external source. The stressful event results in a feeling of pressure, but that feeling can pass once the event is over. It can feel like a fear of the present.

Anxiety’s source is more difficult to pinpoint because it is more often internal. It leads to a sense of dread—a fear of the future.

Stress in the present can transform into anxiety about the future unless we remain aware of its source.

2. Duration

This is clearly related to the source. In a healthy situation, stress will arise and resolve in direct relation to the duration of the pressure you feel.

Anxiety of all kinds is ever-present, though. It can even begin to feel like a personality characteristic.

Recognizing this difference is crucial. If you know what’s upsetting you, it’s probably stress. If being upset all the time is the problem, you may have an anxiety disorder.

3. Worry

Worry can save our lives. It alerts us to danger and keeps us on guard, when necessary. There are times when we worry unnecessarily, of course, but it’s not a big problem.

The concerns kick in when worry becomes a state of mind. Being a “worry wart” is a quirk that doesn’t require attention. Anxious, worrying thoughts, however, are red flags.

4. Panic

Panic attacks are a symptom of an anxiety disorder and should not be confused with being “stressed out.” It’s important that you seek help, especially if you suffer from repeated panic attacks.

What About Those Times When You Can’t Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress?

To be blunt, you may feel stressed out and/or anxious trying to discern the differences between anxiety and stress.

When under duress, we are not the best judge of cause and effect. This is precisely why so many people regularly seek out counseling.

Working with a therapist on a weekly basis is a proven path toward better understanding your feelings. Your sessions are a safe space where you can discover the root of your emotions and, from there, begin treating both source and symptoms.

It’s a calming choice—helping you talk about and manage your experiences. And I’m here to help you.

If you would like to know more about anxiety therapy, please click HERE.

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