There is a thin line between stress and anxiety, and this is the very reason why we often tend to mistake one for the other. And so today, we are going to have a detailed analysis on the differences between stress and anxiety, their symptoms, causes, and solutions. But first, let’s have a look at the misconception surrounding these two terms.
1. The Misconception
It is not uncommon for most people to think they are stressed out when truly, they are anxious, maybe as a result of an upcoming event like seminar presentation at work, or loads of tasks that have to be completed.
And this misconception is often borne from the fact that the two conditions share the same attributes such as chronic headaches (like having muscle tension and headaches) upset stomach, obsessive worrying (like always being excessively worried before important meetings or the next business trip) and overall uneasiness (like always arguing at every slightest thing).
Nevertheless, all I want you to know is that these two conditions are very distinct, and I’m going to explain each of them separately so that you can have a better understanding of how stress and anxiety differ.
2. What Is Stress?
Taking back to its roots in 1936, the word “stress” was coined by Hans Selye who defined it as being “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.
Basically, think of stress as a physical response in which our body tends to switch into, thus releasing hormonal fluids such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, because it feels our body is under attack.
Put differently; stress is more like a defensive mechanism our body automatically switches into when we over work ourselves. And these defensive mechanisms often include chronic headache, an increase in heart beat, a diversion of the blood from the bloodstream to the muscle, slowing down digestion, a halt in tissue repairs and so on, just in a bid to stop us from over stressing ourselves further.
However, in contrary to popular belief that stress is bad for you, not all stress is bad for the body. And one of the reasons why this is so is that stress helps trigger our bodies into reaching its optimal state, where it increases our cognitive performance, as well as alertness.
3. What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling that occurs in our body when our brain perceives a danger that poses a threat to the body. And sometimes, these threats could be unreal because there are just mere imaginations.
And one of the advantages of anxiety is that it sometimes instills fear and apprehension in our body, which helps us to be defensive and to adapt to an environment, no matter where we find ourselves. A perfect example of anxiety is the feeling we get when we are about to go on our first date, perhaps a job interview in a well reputable company, a final match fixture between our supported team versus the opponent, a huge upcoming presentation at work, and so on.
Naturally, anxiety is often short but recurring, if you don’t work on stopping it. And if you can’t control your anxiety level in what is often known as an anxiety disorder, you can read how to successfully treat it here.
So, now that we’ve known what these two are, let’s take a look at their symptoms.
4. Symptoms of Stress
Chronic stress can show itself in one’s body emotionally, behaviorally, and physically, and they all vary in degree, depending on the person involved. And this is why people all of a sudden become brief tempered, weak, sluggish, and so on. Here are some common physical symptoms that show a person is stressed out.
4.1. Physical Symptoms
– Sleep disturbances or changes in sleeping habits (insomnia or sleeping too much),
– Muscle tension,
– Muscle aches,
– Headache, gastrointestinal problems,
4.2. Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms
– Changes in eating habits including overeating or undereating (leading to weight gain or loss),
– Loss of enthusiasm or energy,
– Mood changes, like irritability or becoming easily agitated,
– Engaging in unhealthy habits such as alcohol abuse, smoking, turning to drugs for relief and so on.
Disclaimer: As a fact, it doesn’t mean that every symptom listed here are often as a result of stress, no. This is because when it comes to the experience of stress, it differs from individual to individual as I said earlier, whereby, symptoms for Mr. A, might not be the same for Mr. B.
Nevertheless, if these symptoms occur more than once, like become persistent, then it’s surely a sign of stress and you might want to go visit your physician for proper medical attention.
4.3. Other Stress Symptoms and Signs
– Difficulty Relaxing
– Feeling Frustrated
– Feeling Like You Are Losing Control
– Feeling Overwhelmed
– Frequent Colds and Infections
– Grinding Teeth
– Loss of Sexual Desire
– Low Self-Esteem
5. Symptoms of Anxiety
Irrespective of the fact that some symptoms of anxiety often coincide with that of stress, symptoms such as feeling nervous, tired, tense, or fearful; insomnia, nausea, digestive problems, still, there are more signs often identified with Anxiety. And these include:
– Obsessive thoughts
– A rapid heart rate
– Fast breathing, or hyperventilation
– Feeling too cold or too hot
– Chest pain
– Compulsive behaviors
– Panic attacks, in severe cases
6. What Is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?
So to the main question of the day, what is the difference between stress and anxiety? Well, as I stated earlier, while anxiety can only manifest in the form of emotions/feelings, stress can display itself in several ways including physically, emotionally and behaviorally.
Although most symptoms are similar between stress and anxiety, restlessness and obsessive thoughts are exclusively associated with anxiety. In other words, anyone who is restless and often harbors obsessive thoughts is suffering from an anxiety disorder and not stress per say.
However, given that stress and anxiety often have similar symptoms, the best way to spot out the difference between them is through their origin, treatment and specific symptoms. So let’s look at them.
6.1. Differences in Origin
The main cause of stress often originates from the problems we are currently facing in our lives at the time. Challenges such as financial challenges, marital issues, loss of job, argument, and so on. And as soon as those problems are over or solved, so will the stress level reduce.
An example of how stress affects us is when we are in a situation where we have to get like three or more complicated tasks done in the office in less than 24hours, 48hours or any impossible short period of time.
For instance, you have to write a voluminous report of over 70 pages for your boss next week, and also have to attend two seminars and gather reports that you will also include in the 70 pages report, and then endeavor to attend your child’s last high school game still that same week. Automatically, you’re going to be stressed out under such a condition.
On the other hand, the root cause of anxiety isn’t always as easy to detect because, unlike stress that is caused by external factors, anxiety is a result of internal elements. Plus, anxiety is a persistent feeling of fear that unlike stress once again, doesn’t go away even after an event that triggered it is gone.
For instance, if you were anxious because of a presentation at work, after the presentation, the anxiety will still be there. And when next you have something higher to do like field work or perhaps a job interview, the anxiety will manifest once again simply because it is an internal problem. And that takes us to the next point.
6.2. Differences in Treatment
Another difference between stress and anxiety is that you can successfully manage stress by tackling the external factors that are causing you to be stressed out.
If your workplace is the primary source of your stress, you could sometimes apply for a leave of absence to take some time off, and rest. Once you do that, your stress level will reduce drastically.
On the other hand, you can’t treat anxiety externally because that job interview, first date, or perhaps the work presentation isn’t the problem. The problem is within you and so you’ll need to read on how to treat and manage anxiety disorder or meet a therapist/psychologist to help you with it. Overall, you can only treat stress externally and anxiety internally.
7. Causes of Stress
Below are the most common causes of stress.
25% out of a staggering 80% of workers in America, rate their jobs as stressful, according to research stats from the American Institute of Stress. So it’s no news why workplaces are the most common cause of stress amongst people.
7.2. Work-life Balance
For the mere fact that people can’t seem to get around balancing their work-life relationship is the reason why they often take home their office tasks to complete them at home. Don’t be deceived; doing this will cause you much stress than ever.
7.3. Task Completion
Even the slightest of things as leaving for work without making your bed could cause you much stress when you come back from office to find an unmade bed. So, when you wake up every morning, try to complete every little task you can.
Basically, any external factor that puts you under pressure is capable of causing stress.
8. Causes of Anxiety
Just like in the case of stress, workplace, and not being able to balance your work-life relation can cause you to be anxious.
8.1. Social Media
Social media can put us under a lot of anxiety when we scroll through our feeds and come across perhaps the achievements of our peers, and how far they have gone. The fake lives, gratification, and competition in social media as a whole can cause you to become really anxious.
Lastly, your environment can cause you to become anxious, especially if you’re the type who loves a quiet environment, but happen to live in a constantly busy and noisy environment.
Upcoming and long anticipated events are high triggers of anxiety. Events like having to go on your first ever date with someone, a long anticipated promotion examination at work, and so on.
9. Relationship Between Stress and Anxiety
Other than the similarities in symptoms, stress often grows into anxiety if not treated early. And once it metamorphosis into anxiety(anxiety disorder), it is often hard to control except through the specific intervention of a trained medical professional.
A perfect example of this includes post traumatic stress disorder that often starts as a result of a traumatizing incident like robbery, accident, and so on. These things can lead to an anxiety disorder known as post traumatic disorder.
10. How To Cope With Stress
As I said earlier, it is way easier to manage stress than anxiety, and here are some of the few ways you can achieve that. However, if you want to know about all the ways to manage stress, you can read all about them here.
– Balance your work and family relationships. In other words, know the boundaries and don’t let work interfere with your personal life.
– Exercising often releases a chemical known as dopamine in our body, which is often responsible for making us feel good. So, if you want to manage stress, exercise regularly.
– Eat healthily and abstain from alcohol or drug abuse.
– Stay in touch with positive people that will always encourage you always to keep your heads up.
– Always make out time for your passion. If you’re passionate about football, go watch some during the weekend, if it’s volleyball, basketball, and so on, do the same.
– Practice meditation and Stress Reduction/ Yoga regularly.
– Have enough rest.
– Take a break and go on a vacation.
– Visit your counselor or therapist regularly.
11. How To Cope With Anxiety
Even though it’s going to take some time in spotting out what triggers your feelings of anxiety, here are some things you could do to manage it in the meantime:
– Avoid negative thoughts at all cost. They are one of the main triggers of anxiety.
– Always try to remain focused, and when you feel the anxiety coming, always try to take a deep breath. Between 3-4 deep breathes would be ideal.
– Make use of Aromatherapy, whether it is in an incense form, oil, or a candle, lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood scents. Whatever form it is, aromatherapy can be very helpful in activating specific brain receptors such as anxiety.
– Practice yoga for at least 15 minutes daily, and always go for a walk to calm your mind.
– Try and inculcate the habit of writing down your thoughts to avoid forgetfulness which often triggers anxiety.
– Try identifying and learn how to manage your triggers
– Experiment food supplements or change your diet. Some of the most helpful nutrients/supplements include; lemon balm, omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha, green tea, valerian root, kava kava, dark chocolate (in moderation).
However, it is important to note that these above nutrients won’t work instantly in managing your anxiety level, as it often takes about 3 months for the body to actually act on it in regards to anxiety.
In a nutshell, stress and anxiety are clearly distinct as we’ve discussed today. However, irrespective of their differences, if stress is not properly handled, it could grow into a serious anxiety disorder.
So, if you want to manage your stress level, consider reducing your work time, basically anything engaging you unduly, and take as much rest as you can.
And if you want to manage anxiety, focus more on the internal by taking medications like supplements, practicing mindfulness/meditation, and so on.
Overall, always try to live a healthy life!