Stress vs Anxiety – Differences, Symptoms and Tips for Relief

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A depressed man sitting on the couch at home

Stress and Anxiety are often used interchangeably, but there is a fine line between the two. Understanding the key differences and specific symptoms is the first step towards recovery.

All of us are very familiar with the two words ‘Stress and Anxiety’, and we tend to use these words without much difference. These are normal body responses towards challenges in life, relationships, and work.

Both stress and anxiety show the same symptoms, like stomach aches, muscle tension, restlessness, sleep issues, and racing thoughts. So, most of us have difficulty telling the difference between both.

Stress vs anxiety – understanding each of them

The basic difference between stress and anxiety can be understood when you know their definition, origin, and duration.

What is stress?

Stress is a non-specific body’s response to any external change or demand. It is usually triggered in response to external situations that a person feels and completely comes down once the triggering event passes.

There are two kinds: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute stress: It is short-timed stress, which goes away very quickly. You might experience the acute version when starting a new job or sometimes when having an argument. It usually helps in managing a dangerous situation. In other words, the kind of pumped feeling you get when starting something exciting can be termed acute stress.

Chronic stress: It stays for an extended length of time compared to the previous one. It lasts for weeks and sometimes even for months. If not managed in time, this can also lead to severe health issues.

Sometimes, the absence of emotional and social support can also lead to stress.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety has been defined [1]Mental Health First Aid: Stress vs. Anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health as a constant feeling of dread or apprehension in situations that are felt threatening. The resultant thoughts make the person uncontrollable. Anxiety doesn’t go away completely and continues to stay even in the absence of a stressor.

According to a study [2]National Institute of Mental Health: Any Anxiety Disorder, National Comorbidity Study Replication, stress and anxiety disorders are more prevalent in American women than men. It was close to 24% in females compared to 14% in males.

The same study says that more than 31% of adults in the US have anxiety and stress disorders at least 2 to 3 times.

Symptoms of stress and anxiety

Symptoms of stressSymptoms of anxiety
High Blood PressureRestlessness, feeling nervous and tensed
Shaking or dizziness and headachesIncreased heart rate
Trouble sleeping or exhaustionHyperventilation or rapid breathing
Digestive problems or stomach issuesTrembling and sweating
Jaw clenching and muscle tensionFeeling tired and weakness
Irritability, depression, and mood swingsTrouble falling asleep
Concentration and memory issuesGastrointestinal problems

Healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety

A study [3]University of Colorado Boulder: 25 Quick Ways to Reduce Stress suggests that certain lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. Some of the most important ones are given below.

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Meditate everyday
  • Allot time for hobbies
  • Write a diary
  • Make friends and talk to them

If you are trying to cope with stress and anxiety, be extra cautious with the consumption of drugs and alcohol because they might worsen both conditions.

How can you easily prevent stress and anxiety?

There are a lot of strategies to deal with stress and anxiety and keep them at bay.

  • Yoga, meditation, tai-chi, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are all activities that offer relaxation. You can check them out on your smartphones or computers. There are also many community centers and gyms that offer a lot of relaxation techniques.
  • Taking good care of your body helps you deal with stressed moods and anxiety in a better way. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep together will help you deal with anxiety and stress much better.
  • You should realize the truth that you cannot control everything. So don’t bang your head thinking of those things; you cannot change anything.
  • At times, there are unnecessary additional work responsibilities that you cannot fulfil. Learn to say ‘NO,’ otherwise you will end up stressed.
  • Try to involve in healthy fitness activities like team sports, partner yoga, group fitness sessions and more that you can perform with your loved ones, friends and family. These activities will help you develop and maintain good relations with people who can comfort you and keep you calm, happy and support you emotionally.

Take Away

Everyone feels stressed or anxious sometimes, which is quite natural. But sometimes, stress or anxiety can cause unhealthy behavior and uncontrolled emotional and physical symptoms. It is always better to deal with stress and anxiety using simple strategies at home, but if you cannot deal with them, it is good to seek a doctor’s advice.

If you find yourself dealing with any of the above symptoms, you can always use some of the remedies mentioned above. But then, always remember that seeking medical advice, guidance and remedies is always a safer bet.


1 Mental Health First Aid: Stress vs. Anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health
2 National Institute of Mental Health: Any Anxiety Disorder
3 University of Colorado Boulder: 25 Quick Ways to Reduce Stress

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