What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

May 31, 2021Anxiety, Stress

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Lots of people talk about feeling stressed or anxious. But do you know the difference between these two terms that get used frequently in everyday life?

Stress and anxiety are common so we should all have some understanding of these conditions.

Stress and anxiety can happen at all ages but it is increasingly found with children and young people.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal reaction to pressures or demands. It is the body’s response to a challenge. It is caused by the ‘fight, flight or freeze response.

We all feel overwhelmed sometimes. Maybe we are being asked to do more than is possible or it could be that you think you need to do more.

Stress is therefore an external pressure that can affect us personally. Some people get headaches, some people can’t sleep of it affects performance and work and relationships.

Prolonged stress or chronic stress can cause ill health. For example, high blood pressure, insomnia, or depression.

Some ways that we can recognise stress is by our behaviours. According to the Mental Health Foundation study (2018), 46% of people reported that they ate too much because of stress and anxiety. They also showed that people drank too much alcohol and started smoking.

So if you eat too much or drink too much you should consider reducing your stress and anxiety levels.

But we do need some stress in our lives.

Stress can be good for us

Stress has got some positive aspects if it is short term. For example, we all do better if we have some stress such as deadlines.

It also keeps us motivated and moving forward with things in life. Consequently, it helps us achieve more.

So stress isn’t all bad.

Some stress is normal.

Work-related stress

I wonder when you last heard someone say ‘I’m so stressed…’ or ‘I’ve had such a stressful day at work.’

Work-related stress is something we should all be aware of.

The Health and Safety Executive states the causes of stress at work are related to:

  • the inability to cope with demands
  • lack of control in work
  • Lack of information and support
  • Difficult relationships or being bullied
  • People not understanding their roles and responsibilities
  • Lack of engagement when a business is undergoing change

Stress can result in physical and mental ill-health that means people get signed off work.

All businesses should aim to reduce unnecessary stress at work and support people who are feeling stressed.

If you think your work is too stressful you need to talk to your manager or HR department. Executives and business owners can delegate however dealing with change and specific stressors is important.

Other contributing factors to stress and anxiety

Today there are other factors that are contributing to people becoming stressed and anxious.

  • The pandemic
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Lack of friends or support
  • Moving house
  • Getting divorced
  • Personal pressures such as exams and the need to achieve something.
  • Different work demands
  • Grief and loss

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be caused by stress but it can also just happen.

Anxiety is a fear or apprehension about something. It is an internal response usually to a threat or perceived threat.

It can cause worry, tension, and other physical health problems such as digestive problems, headaches, backache, infertility problems and many more things.

Some anxiety as a short term issue is good because it makes us assess any threats, but long term anxiety can become an anxiety disorder that requires help. Anxiety disorders are conditions diagnosed by a doctor.

Anxiety disorders can include:

  • General anxiety disorder (People usually worry a lot and avoid situations)
  • Panic disorder or panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • PTSD
  • Social phobia

What do stress and anxiety feel like?

You might notice one or more of the following:

  1. Tiredness and difficulty sleeping
  2. Muscle tension
  3. Anger and irritability
  4. Forgetting things
  5. Not working to your usual standards
  6. Headaches
  7. Digestive problems
  8. Feeling restless
  9. Thinking the worst
  10. Aches and pains
  11. Minor skin problems
  12. More sore throats and coughs and colds
  13. Dizzyness
  14. Shaking
  15. Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  16. Wanting to urinate more often

Some of these symptoms can be associated with other conditions so you should get a health check if they persist.

Do I need professional help with stress and anxiety?

If you are feeling stressed or anxious for more than a few weeks and it is affecting your daily living you should seek help from family, friends and professionals.

Healthcare professionals, counsellors/psychotherapists, art therapists, coaches and complementary therapists can all assist with stress and anxiety problems.

If you ever feel suicidal you need urgent help, contact your doctor, local hospital or you can call the Samaritans at any time. Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

What can I do to reduce stress and anxiety?

  • Relaxation e.g. listen to music, have a massage, learn yoga
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Keep a journal. Writing things down often helps because you move negative thoughts onto paper.
  • Get creative. Draw, paint, make something like a cake
  • Exercise
  • Talk to a friend
  • Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine drinks
  • Get help if you are taking recreational or street drugs because this can make things worse
  • Consider CBT, hypnosis or counselling
  • Have a laugh. Watch a comedy or spend time with people who make you feel happy

Awaken the Change specialises in providing hypnotherapy, counselling and coaching for stress and anxiety. Contact Linda.

In conclusion, stress and anxiety are similar but there are differences. Stress is related to outside pressures. Anxiety results in internal fear and apprehension. Any stress and anxiety that is affecting you needs to change because chronic stress and anxiety may lead to emotional and health-related problems.


Awaken the Change is about Focusing Minds for Positive Results

Awaken the Change is a self-help service providing education and information.

Linda sees clients at her practice in Bournemouth, in the UK. She is also happy to provide online help via webcam for hypnotherapy, counselling and supervision. Counselling and supervision can also be provided by telephone.

Linda is an accredited trainer and supervisor.

Linda Witchell
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