Stress Versus Anxiety

By Michele C. Hollow  @YourCareE
October 09, 2023
Stress Versus Anxiety

The difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is temporary, while anxiety is an emotional reaction that lingers long after a problem is solved.

Everyone has experienced some form of stress and anxiety. Stress can even cause you to become anxious. While similarities between the two exist, they are quite different.

Stress versus anxiety

The main disparity between stress and anxiety is that stress is the temporary result of an outside force acting on you, while anxiety is your emotional reaction to that force that lingers long after the problem is solved.

When you’re late for work, worried about a test, or concerned about a job promotion, you know that the stress you’re feeling will be short-lived. “This type of stress tends to resolve itself once the situation or event is resolved,” said James Korman, PsyD, ACT, a psychologist at Summit Medical Group in Summit, N.J.

Stress can be beneficial. It can heighten your awareness. Stress increases cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in your body, making you more focused and attuned to your surroundings. It can even boost your confidence because you’re sharper and more attentive to the situations you’re experiencing.


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“Anxiety on the other hand,” Korman said, “has two primary symptoms. One is worry, where people are repeatedly thinking or ruminating about things and the ways to solve it. The other is physical; you can experience muscle tension, your heart races, you have shortness of breath, and you may have headaches, stomach aches, sweating, or dizziness, all of which are signs that your ‘fight or flight’ response has been activated.”

Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is important because “anxiety becomes problematic once it’s extended past the point of normalcy,” Korman said. “If anxiety goes on for too long, it can begin to impede and hurt your ability to perform daily activities and can eventually become an anxiety disorder.”

With anxiety, the psychological stress can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally to the point where you avoid situations and don’t cope rationally with them.

Signs of anxiety

•    You’re constantly worried or on edge.
•    Your anxiety interferes with your ability to work.
•    You anticipate the worst.
•    You have irrational fears.
•    You think something bad will happen if you don’t follow the rules or don’t do a task a certain way.
•    You avoid people, places, and situations.

When it comes to stress versus anxiety, you cannot prevent anxiety. You can, however, lessen and manage the symptoms.

Treating anxiety

Korman recommends talking to a cognitive behavioral therapist. A therapist can teach you that events don’t cause anxiety; it’s how you think about the events that make you feel anxious. “For instance, he said, “people with anxiety tend to spend most of their time thinking and worrying about the future.”

A therapist will help you identify, understand, and change negative thinking and behavior patterns. You’ll focus more on the present and less on the future.

Your therapist may also recommend alternative methods, such as stress and relaxation exercises. Meditation, yoga, and aerobic exercise can treat anxiety. Those natural treatments raise serotonin levels, which affect your moods and behaviors. Serotonin can make you feel relaxed and happy.

Your doctor may also recommend that you cut down on caffeine. Coffee, tea, cola, and energy drinks contain caffeine, which increases your body’s heart rate, blood pressure, and tension levels. A doctor may also try to help you normalize your sleep patterns; a good night’s sleep often helps you view stressors with a better perspective.

Many people with an anxiety disorder take prescription medications. Your doctor may prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Popular anti-anxiety SSRIs include Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft.

You should also know that there are no quick fixes. The good news is that you can manage your anxiety with the help of your doctor and a good therapist.


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October 09, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA