The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

Stress is something that everyone can say that they have experienced at least a handful of times in their lives. Even newborn babies exhibit signs of stress, such as when they cry over things such as being hungry or being uncomfortable. Stress is, unfortunately, a part of everyone’s lives. In fact, roughly 33% of Americans report feeling extreme stress. 77% of Americans report that they experience stress that affects their physical health, while 73% report stress that impacts their mental health. With this many people experiencing stress, it can be easy to confuse the symptoms with those of anxiety. The question is “are stress and anxiety the same thing”?

Anxiety, unlike stress, is not something that everyone experiences. Everyone can recall a time when they were feeling anxious, but that is much different than having an actual anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the United States, with more than 40 million people experiencing one. Benzodiazepines, which are medications most frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, are the most widely prescribed medications in the country. While people in the country face a slew of various mental health concerns and are exposed to countless medications, the vast majority of people are experiencing anxiety disorders on a daily basis. 

What is Stress?

Simply defined, stress is the “feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure”. Some of the most common big triggers of stress include:

  • Financial problems
  • Health problems
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Major life changes
  • Loss of a loved one

These triggers are so invasive that it is hard to ignore them. That is because the things that stress us out the most are usually directed towards the most challenging aspects of our lives, like work, our relationships, parenting, or experiencing a major life change. But stress can also sneak up in smaller ways, including:

  • Running late
  • Having a long list of things complete in a certain period of time
  • Perfectionism
  • Influx of technology
  • Watching too much news

When little stressors add up, big stressors can come along and completely throw a person off track. All of the stressors combined can make it difficult for someone to focus, breathe, be productive, have good emotional health, and so on. Stress is also commonly linked to overeating or not eating enough, apathy, sleep problems, and physical issues like chronic headaches or muscle pain. While stress is certainly problematic in the lives of many, it is not a mental health condition or something that requires professional treatment. Instead, individuals can learn how to alter their surroundings to help reduce the presence of stress in their lives.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental health condition that comes in many forms. Outside of the most common of all anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety) are a number of other types of anxiety disorders that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorder 
  • Social phobia

Each type of anxiety disorder has its own set of symptoms. Not all anxiety disorders are the same, nor do they present that way. However, of the many anxiety disorders that exist, the above listed ones are the most common across the board. 

So, what exactly is anxiety? The technical definition of anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”. Different from the definition of stress, the definition of anxiety explains that the root symptom of anxiety is worry. Of course, people can be stressed out by their worries or worry about something to the point where they experience stress, but that does not mean that what they are experiencing is anxiety. Most anxiety disorders share a variety of symptoms that can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Feeling restless, tense, or nervous
  • Having a sense of impending danger/doom
  • Feeling panicked
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling tired/weak
  • Sweating
  • Shaking 
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulty thinking of things other than the worry  

People who have an anxiety disorder find that they are unable to focus on things other than what they are worried about. For them, it feels like their anxiety is constantly at the forefront of their mind, impacting all that they do in a day/night. When anxiety goes untreated, individuals can become incapacitated to a point where they are not longer productive at work or at home, have withdrawn from friends, are constantly fearful of something terrible happening, and more. These are much more severe symptoms than those related to stress, as anxiety disorders can quickly and efficiently infiltrate all areas of one’s life without letting up. That is because those with an anxiety disorder often have a biological component to it, meaning that they require medication and therapy to adjust their brain chemistry accordingly. They cannot always control how they feel or respond. People who experience stress are able to implement changes that can reduce the amount of stress they are exposed to each day. 

Mental Health Treatment at Neuroscience Institute 

If your mental health needs improvement, reach out to us at Neuroscience Institute right now. We can help untangle the symptoms you are experiencing so that we can help provide an effective solution.

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