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 a challenge in telling the difference between both.

Similarities aside, there are several differences between the two. No wonder, the stress vs anxiety question has been the subject of many studies.

Let us know what each of them means in detail.

Stress vs anxiety – understanding each of them

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

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

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. Anxiety on the other hand, is experienced due to internal causes. The resultant thoughts make the person uncontrollable. Anxiety doesn’t go away completely and continues to stay even in the absence of a stressor.

Now, let’s know each of them in a more detailed manner.

What is stress?

Stress refers to a physical and/or emotional tension that can result from frustrated thoughts or events making you nervous and angry. It is your body’s reaction to high demand or a challenge.

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 only 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.

There are two kinds: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute stress 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.

On the other hand, chronic stress stays for an extended length of time compared to the previous one. A longer duration of stress that can occur because of ruptured situations or circumstances, arising out of marriage or money issues can be treated as a chronic kind. The chronic one lasts for weeks and sometimes even for months. If not managed in time, this can also lead to many health issues.

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

Physical symptoms of stress

  • Pains & Aches
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking or Dizziness and Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping or Exhaustion
  • Digestive problems or Stomach issues
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Jaw clenching and Muscle Tension
  • A weak Immune system

Emotional symptoms of stress

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Concentration and memory issues
  • Low sex drive
  • Mood swings
  • Compulsive behavior

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a dreaded feeling of uneasiness and fear. You will feel tense and restless when you have anxiety and your heart beats rapidly. Anxiety usually comes when you face a problem at the workplace or before making an important decision.

According to the study [3]American Psychiatric Association: What are Anxiety Disorders?, close to 30% of American adults experience anxiety disorders in their lives.

Though the exact cause of Anxiety is not known till now, it is believed that there are a variety of combinations of factors that cause it.

Chemical imbalance

If severe stress stays for longer, it can affect the balance of chemicals that control your mood. If this chemical imbalance continues, it can lead to anxiety.

Heredity

It is very likely that anxiety runs in families. If one or both the parents have anxiety, it is very common to be passed on to the child or children because of identical genetic composition.

Environment

If you have a high risk of anxiety due to hereditary reasons, the living environment also plays a great role in increasing the chances.

Risk factors for anxiety can vary based on what type of anxiety disorder is present. However, both genetics and the living environment play a role as risk factors. Other general risk factors for anxiety disorders include childhood shyness, exposure to stress or negative events at a young age, and a family history of anxiety or other mental conditions.

Certain medical conditions like irregular heartbeat, high caffeine consumption, or thyroid issues can also be attributed to the worst anxiety triggers.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • Restlessness, feeling nervous and tensed
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation or Rapid breathing
  • Trembling and Sweating
  • Feeling tired and weakness
  • Trouble in falling asleep
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Stress and anxiety relief

Taking care of your own physical and mental health on a long term is very vital in managing stress and anxiety. Below are some amazing and quick ways to reduce both of them in less time.

Breathe

Breathing slowly and deeply helps lower high blood pressure and relieves stress and anxiety. This technique balances the body and the mind.

Stretch

During a stressful working day, a quick stretch by standing will reduce muscle tension. You can do this right at your work desk.

Close your eyes

Be it at your home or the office, if you feel stressed or anxious, just close your eyes and think of something you feel nice about. You will regain focus and calm within no time.

Squeeze a stress ball

There are many people who can be a cause of stress and anxiety to you. You cannot control everyone. Instead, take a stress ball and start squeezing it. This is another easy way of releasing your tension.

Be alone

Try to stay alone for 5 to 10 minutes. This will help you to think correctly and clear your head of unnecessary thoughts.

Eat some chocolate

Eat a small piece of chocolate. This will calm down your nerves, regulate the level of stress hormones, and stabilize your metabolism.

Chew gum

Chewing a gum when you are stressed or have anxiety lowers the level of cortisol and quickly beats anxiety and stress.

Honey

A spoonful of honey is not only a natural skin moisturizer but also reduces brain inflammation and fights against anxiety and depression.

Healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety

A study [4]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
  • Stay away from Alcohol and Caffeine
  • 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 the 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 relaxing, 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.

References

References
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 American Psychiatric Association: What are Anxiety Disorders?
4 University of Colorado Boulder: 25 Quick Ways to Reduce Stress

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