Asana Recovery

What’s the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

stress and anxietyIf you’re struggling with mental health problems, you likely hear about stress and anxiety a lot. In fact, the two are often paired together, leading many to see them as a joint problem. If you have stress, you have anxiety, if you have anxiety, you have stress. That’s true to a large extent, but it’s still important to understand the differences so that you can react and treat each in an effective manner.

Eventually, both stress and anxiety are related to negative stimulation. And, anxiety is a form of stress on the body. However, there are differences in cause and effect as well as in potential treatments.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural response to perceived or actual threats to challenging, unknown, or overwhelming situations. Typically it results in the release of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased alertness. Stress can also be temporary (acute), episodic (frequent, but goes away) and chronic (it stays no matter what). And, stress is such a big problem in the United States that 74% of people report feeling so stressed that they’ve been unable to cope within the last year.

Stress typically results in mental symptoms including:

  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Racing thoughts
  • Constant worry
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Decreased motivation
  • Sadness and depression
  • Reduced interest in activities and hobbies
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased conflicts in relationships

People also often experience physical symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Stomach problems
  • Heart racing or palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing properly
  • Changes in sexual interest
  • Increase in illnesses

These symptoms are normally fine temporarily. But for people dealing with episodic stress (E.g., a highly stressful job) or chronic stress (either ongoing stress factors or poor coping) they can become dangerous to the health and may result in developing worsening mental health problems.

Get Your Questions Answered

What is Anxiety?

man infront of his laptop working struggling with anxiety and stressAnxiety is the natural human emotion of feelings of worry, fear, and unease. This reaction can be to perceived threats, real or imagined, and is an important part of ensuring that people plan, prepare, and are ready for adversity. However, in situations of ongoing stress, anxiety can become overwhelming and chronic, making it a problem on its own. Anxiety can also be generalized and applied to everything but it may also apply to specific instances such as social situations, driving, or germs. And, a heightened version of it, panic disorders, may be accompanied by symptoms of heart rate and chest pain that can feel like you’re dying.

An estimated 31.1% of all Americans will quality for an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Anxiety can also have a significant impact on quality of life, reducing physical health, increasing risks of other mental health disorders, and negatively impacting social life and relationships.

Anxiety typically has mental symptoms including:

  • Feeling restless or being on edge
  • Difficulty experiencing life in the moment
  • Fatigue or tiring quickly
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Feelings of worry, especially those that spiral out of control
  • Avoidance of things that cause worry or stress
  • Heightened feelings of worry even in situations where they are not warranted

Most people also experience physical side effects including:

  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Tense muscles and aches
  • Dizzy spells or lightheadedness
  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Dry mouth

In each case, if left alone, these symptoms can get worse and may spiral out of control.

What are the Differences?

In most cases, stress is a physical reaction to a specified threat, resulting in a physical reaction in the body. Anxiety is typically better defined as a bodily reaction designed at preventing future stress. Anxiety is also a form of stress, in that it’s a response to a real or perceived threat and, in theory, helps you to react to that threat quickly.

  • Stress is more likely to arise as a result of an actual and present issue. Anxiety arises out of perceived future issues.
  • Stress typically doesn’t last very long although it can. Anxiety typically lasts until the anxiety-inducing issue has passed.
  • Anxiety can be significantly more intense and present than stress, although both can be physically harmful
  • Stress is typically very focused on a specific point of stress. Anxiety tends to be more broad and it may be difficult to figure out what you’re feeling anxious about.

Stress is very often considered to be “lighter” than anxiety. However, it’s important to note that it can still significantly impact your quality of life and may cause real mental and physical health problems.

Stress and Feed Anxiety and Vice-Versa

worry and fearsStress and anxiety can and often do coexist with each other. Prolonged and chronic stress is also one of the major contributors to developing anxiety disorders. For that reason, the two are often referred to together. In addition, anxiety causes stress. You might experience a heightened state of worry about something happening, which causes you to experience stress, meaning that you feel bad and increase anxiety. These can exacerbate each other, to the point where perceived threats of social situations being bad are self-fulfilling, because you experience so much stress that it’s actually bad.

In each case, it’s important to stop and to talk to a doctor. If you need treatment for stress and anxiety, you typically have to reduce stress input first to reduce triggers on anxiety. Then, you can treat the anxiety symptoms and then treat the causes of the anxiety. That can be a longer process and it may involve figuring out what the underlying causes of each are.

Getting Help

Millions of Americans live with stress and anxiety every day. Unfortunately, most of us never get treatment or help with mental health problems like anxiety. That’s in part because of stigma and in part because of the perceived inaccessibility of treatment. However, treatment can help you to figure out why you’re experiencing stress, how it’s causing anxiety, and what you can do to better manage both, so that you can improve your quality of life and reduce your overall levels of stress and anxiety.

Asana Recovery is located in Orange County, California. and offers detoxresidential, and outpatient addiction treatment services in our modern and comfortable addiction treatment facilities. For those with anxiety we offer an effective dual diagnosis treatment program. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.