Sunday night going on Monday morning? Maybe there’s a presentation, and you’re stressed out, or perhaps a family member is coming into town, and you need to clean the house. What’s that you’re feeling? More than likely, it’s stress, which is a natural part of life, but you might wonder the difference between stress and anxiety. Although both are very common in life, stress isn’t a medical condition, while anxiety can be serious.
Both stress and anxiety are a fight or flight response to danger, and the purpose is to ensure someone is focused, alert, and ready to deal with the potential threat. Despite them being normal, it’s common to overwhelm someone.
Stress hormones cause our hearts to beat fast, which results in blood pumping to the limbs and organs. The response gives a person the necessary push to either run away or fight what they’re facing. It also causes the individual to breathe faster and increases blood pressure. On that same note, the individual’s senses will become much sharper, and their body releases nutrients into the blood. It does this to ensure all parts have the necessary energy.
In most cases, a person will recognize anxiety as the feeling of unease, dread, or distress before a significant event. It allows them to stay alert and be aware. The fight or flight response will kick in when someone faces an emotional, physical, real, or perceived threat. Despite it being useful, for some, it might interfere with their daily lives.
While the occasional anxiety is to be expected, those who struggle with an anxiety condition can attest to its severity. Anxiety is considered to be the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18.1 percent of the population, or 40 million adults. Despite their treatability, only 36.9 percent of people will get the help they need.
Although stress isn’t a medical condition, enough of it can lead to adverse consequences, like high blood pressure and changes to your digestive system, immune system, and brain. Although stress itself can’t kill you, the damage it causes may lead to premature death. It’s important to understand the symptoms and know the differences between the two so that you get the proper help.
The most common symptoms a person experiencing stress include the following:
Symptoms of stress that you encounter can change and vary over time. Understanding what triggers your stress can help you increase your awareness. Knowing this essential information will help you learn stress reduction techniques when the first signs of stress appear.
The most common symptoms a person experiencing anxiety include the following:
Anxiety and stress tend to elicit similar bodily reactions and have the same type of symptoms, meaning that it’s challenging to distinguish the difference between the two. Stress is typically more short-term and caused by a response to a recognized threat, while anxiety might linger and commonly occurs when nothing triggers it.
Fortunately, anxiety and stress can be managed in several ways, including the following that we’ll discuss below.
The primary features that make up generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are excessive worry and anxiety that occurs more days than not for six months or more. The intensity of worry or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual impact of the anticipated event. For example, going to work in the morning is likely to cause some dread in some people, but a person suffering an anxiety disorder will react much worse and feel like they’re losing control in what isn’t a big deal to someone else.
Other symptoms that stem from generalized anxiety disorder include the following:
It’s possible that you’re experiencing a bit of both, but one could be more overwhelming than the other.
Relaxation strategies are effective in helping people cope with their anxiety or stress that don’t want to use medication. These strategies include:
Physical activity is an ideal option for those looking to combat stressful situations. It can be something simple like taking your pet for a walk, taking your bike out for a ride around the neighborhood, or going for a run around the block. The fluid motion of activities like yoga or going to the gym help restore a sense of calm.
Talking about your worries can help ease stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s in person, face to face, or online, but talking to friends, partners, or family members they trust will help them find balance. Sometimes you need to accept that you can’t control everything and settle for your best rather than aiming for perfection.
If stress or anxiety has diminished the quality of your life, it might be time to reach out for help. A medical professional can help determine what you’re going through and offer the proper support, which could mean psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.
ADAA (April 2021) Anxiety Statistics. from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics#:~:text=Did%20You%20Know%3F,of%20those%20suffering%20receive%20treatment
Harvard Medical School (July 2018) Do I Have Anxiety or Worry: What’s the Difference? from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/do-i-have-anxiety-or-worry-whats-the-difference-2018072314303
NIMH (April 2021) Generalized Anxiety Disorder. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml
NCBI (N.D.) Social Anxiety Disorder. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK327674/
Healthline (April 2020) Stress Can’t Actually Kill You. from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/can-stress-kill-you#myth-busting