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Stress & Anxiety - What's the Difference?

Updated: Nov 17, 2022


Stress is a perfectly normal response of the body to some type of change, demand, or threat. The stress response can be physical, emotional, or mental.

We do need some level of stress in our lives and we will always have some type of stress. Stress can motivate us to action. People respond differently to stress sometimes depending on life experiences, their thoughts and perceptions or the situation they are experiencing.

The expectation is that when we go through periods of higher stress, we return to our normal selves once that stressful period is over or the stressor is removed. Examples would be:

  • Moving home

  • Changing jobs

  • An unexpected event such as the death of someone close or the loss of a job

  • a busy period at work, too much work, too many responsibilities, increase in workload

  • divorce

When stress is too much or prolonged this can have a negative impact on both our mental and physical health.

Symptoms of Stress: sleeping difficulties, headaches, stiff neck, upset stomach, change in eating habits, withdrawal, difficulty breathing, difficulty relaxing, feeling wound up, can’t switch off


Anxiety is a feeling and people experience different symptoms, for example, butterflies, churning stomach, tight chest, sweating palms and sometimes a feeling of panic.

It is a normal response to some situations in life. Anxiety can be triggered by up-and-coming events that may make you nervous:

  • Driving test/exam

  • Giving a presentation

  • Meeting a new group of people

  • Going out on a date

  • Thinking your boss won’t value that project you worked on

  • Getting married

Anxiety is a normal response to those situations. However, when it feels out of control and impacts on everyday life, it begins to have a negative impact on mental and physical health.

Anxiety brings with it sometimes overwhelming fear that can stop you from doing things you want to do or even need to do: everyday things like taking public transport, going to work, or meeting friends.

Anxiety can feel all-consuming and overwhelming. Anxiety is a stress response.


When we look at stress and anxiety – what really is the difference?

Stress is mainly caused by events outside of you that are happening in your life at the time you are experiencing stress. An increase in workload, too much stress, not enough time in the day. A new job with more responsibilities.

Anxiety is generally more introspective. Although outside events can make you feel anxious. If you are overly anxious, you are often looking at the future and worrying about something.

I recall someone saying that most anxiety is caused because our outside lives don’t match the pictures in our heads. In other words, what we want, we don’t have. The pictures we build in our heads of the life we want don’t match our reality.

Generally, stress is a reaction to something that is happening now and anxiety is a stress response to something that may or may not happen in the future. So stress is based on NOW. Anxiety is FUTURE BASED.

Our thoughts impact greatly how we feel. Anxiety escalates when you look at the future and worry about something. You then become focused on this, your worry and fear increase, and the anxiety can then feel overwhelming to the point you can’t function properly.

Although there are many techniques to help with both stress and anxiety. The most impactful thing you can do if you are experiencing anxiety disorder is to become aware of your thoughts and redirect them as they dictate how you feel.

Choose instead to think about something different rather than what you are focused on. Think of happy memories, a wonderful holiday, and imagine yourself on the beach or walking in nature. Stop your anxious thoughts in their tracks otherwise, they keep firing off. YOUR IMAGINATION IS THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL YOU HAVE. You can use it for you or against you.


You are the best judge as to the impact of stress and/or anxiety in your life.

Do you feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety?

Are there things you have stopped doing because of anxiety?

Can you see an end to the stress?

Is how you are feeling affecting your relationships at work, home, friendships etc?

Are you depending more and more on alcohol or drugs or have started taking them as a result?

Can I continue on like this?

If stress or anxiety are impacting so much on your life that you say to yourself "I can’t go on like this" then don’t. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.


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