The Difference between Stress and Anxiety

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • What's interesting about the ‘I don't feel stressed' response is firstly the assumption we know what stress feels like and secondly how often stress is confused with anxiety. There's actually quite a difference between stress and anxiety although in some ways they do overlap. In this post I'm looking first at how stress and anxiety differ and then how they relate.


    Anxiety is an emotional sensation. It's the uneasy and apprehensive feeling we get when we're emotionally or physically threatened.


    Stress develops from situations that cause us to feel anger, irritation or frustration, but it is also a response to viruses, heat, cold, hunger and thirst. Stress is the way the body reacts to situations where a quick decision is needed, or an action, or a threat or some imbalance to its normal functioning occurs. It is a protective mechanism usually, but if constantly triggered it becomes a health issue.

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    Most people know what a stressful day feels like. It leaves you feeling depleted, tired, and often with a headache. Yet, your day may have simultaneously been satisfying and the day from hell, an experience many health professionals can relate to. Your body however responds to stress in the same way. It pushes out adrenaline and various stress hormones and it makes your heart work faster. This is excellent for situations in the short term but less good over long periods of time.


    Any job where the meeting of deadlines is essential, or your performance is on display and being judged by others is stressful. Even more stressful is having to deal with disgruntled people, having to take on extra work, or having a boss you can't get on with. The role of long-term caregiver is just as stressful, often because of the social isolation, repetitive demands and sleep disruptions that come with the role. Despite all this, you may not feel anxious.


    Where confusion arises I think it is because we often talk about stress and anxiety as if they are one and the same thing. Another reason may be that people often only acknowledge they are stressed once they experience symptoms of acute anxiety. The person finds they can't concentrate as well as they used to. Sleep may become disrupted, moods become more tetchy and irritable. In some situations the person may develop anxiety or panic attacks.


    Stress and anxiety are parallel paths. Independently of each other they can present a variety of health issues. Sometimes their paths cross. Anxiety often develops from stress, so by making changes to your lifestyle it is often possible to reduce the associated anxiety.


Published On: May 18, 2011