Stress versus Anxiety
People often use "stress" and "anxiety" interchangeably, but the terms describe different states of mind. Simply put, stress is a reaction to something happening now, while anxiety is a reaction to something that may happen in the future. Stress can cause anxiety, anxiety can also cause stress, and both get in the way of life. If you are struggling with either, talk to your doctor.
We feel stress when we're in a situation that requires an emotional or physical response that is new. Any event that makes you feel angry, pressured, or even excited, can bring stress. It often comes from circumstances that require some kind of change or adaptation, such as starting a new job, moving to a new city, or ending a relationship.
Everyone's body has a different way of showing stress, and what is stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for another. Some physical symptoms that you may experience if you are stressed include:
- Faster heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Frequent need to pee
- Hard time focusing
- Feeling fatigued and tired
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
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Anxiety, on the other hand, is a term associated with situations that cause people to be nervous, afraid, and worried – usually for an event that is going to occur in the future. Anxiety occurs when an individual is anticipating an upcoming event and afraid of its outcome.
We all feel anxious at times, but for some people it can be severe. Anxiety becomes a problem when you experience symptoms nearly everyday to the extent that it interferes with daily activities such as going to work or developing relationships.
Common anxiety symptoms include:
- Feeling powerless
- Chest pain
- A sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Feeling weak or tired
- Phobias: overwhelming and irrational fear of something
- Social anxiety: inability to interact with other people or be around people at all
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): attempt to reduce stress by repeating certain behaviors, as well as obsessive thought patterns
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): flashbacks, anger, depression
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public health education intern
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: July 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Stress and Anxiety, Medline Plus.
The Difference Between Stress & Anxiety, Capital Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Behavioral Issues.
Stress or Anxiety – What's the Difference?, Sutter Health: "My Life Stages" Blog.