Substance Abuse Program Coordinator 

End the Stigma: The difference between stress and anxiety


June 30, 2022

What is the difference between stress and anxiety? Are they one in the same or different? There is a fine line between stress and anxiety. Stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as an argument with a loved one, or it can be long-term, such as being unemployed for an extended period of time or having a chronic illness. The stress usually subsides once the stressor is gone or dealt with. People under stress can experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles and difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. It is a feeling of dread, fear and uneasiness. Anxiety is a person’s specific response to stress. It is internal. Anxiety leads to a nearly identical set of symptoms as stress does: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. And, unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern/stressor has passed.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America,

*Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.

* Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

*People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

*Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, but when is it time to seek help? When anxiety interferes with personal or professional relationships, when you start to have persistent sleep issues, when it affects your ability to concentrate, when it stops you from doing the things you once enjoyed, when it fosters a sense of self-loathing or a feeling of worthlessness, when you start isolating from others, or when it causes you to have suicidal thoughts, seek professional help.

In addition to these emotional and mental troubles, if left unaddressed, anxiety can cause problems with your physical health. The physical symptoms of anxiety may include an upset stomach, excessive sweating, headache, rapid heartbeat, and trouble breathing. If you’ve noticed your anxiety wreaks havoc on your physical health, it’s even more important to seek professional help. The bottom line is if you feel trapped by your anxiety and find yourself in a state of excessive fear or worry more often than not, professional help is warranted.

The two main treatments for anxiety disorders are psychotherapy and medications. You may benefit most from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover which treatments work best for you, but it is worth the journey to find out. Treatment can help you overcome the symptoms and lead a more manageable day-to-day life. And, for some people, medication isn’t even necessary. Certain lifestyle changes may be enough to cope with the symptoms. Lifestyle changes can be an effective way to relieve some of the anxiety symptoms you may cope with every day.

Some natural remedies include: getting enough sleep, meditating/praying, staying active and exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, avoiding caffeine and quitting smoking cigarettes.


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