Updated on May 17, 2023

Stress & Anxiety: Are They Different?


Updated on May 17, 2023

Stress & Anxiety: Are They Different?

Key Highlights

  • Sadness, fatigue, low immunity, jaw clenching, hair fall, and heaviness in heart are all symptoms of stress.
  • Anxiety symptoms include frequent urination, nervousness, irrational fears and hyper-alertness.
  • Stress and anxiety have some common symptoms like rapid heartbeats, rapid breathing, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Prolonged stress can lead to depression, anxiety, burnout, as also, heart problems, stomach ulcers, and autoimmune diseases.
  • Prolonged anxiety can lead to anxiety disorders.
  • Stress and anxiety can be managed by management techniques such as meditation, exercise, and therapies, as well as, by medical intervention.

Have you ever run very fast to catch a bus to work, and felt your heart pounding?

Ever lost a crucial job and felt a feeling of fear grasp you, till you got another job?

If your answer to both these questions is ‘yes’, then surely, you recognize the feelings accompanying the events.

Would you say you felt stressed, or, would you say you felt anxious while catching the bus or until the time you got another job?

So, is there any difference between stress and anxiety, or are these two feelings the same?

Let us explore.

Stress and anxiety: Two sides of the same coin or not?

The relation between stress and anxiety:

  • Both of them are the body’s natural response to danger.
  • Both are part of the body’s natural fight or flight reaction that happens when the brain feels a sense of danger.
  • Both have several tell-tale symptoms that overlap;

and yet, there’s a fine line of difference between stress and anxiety.

Differences between stress and anxiety

The trigger:

Stress can be good or bad, both.

Good stress (eustress) is caused by factors like trying to finish a deadline, or, moving to another country. Bad stress (distress) is caused by more disturbing factors like losing a family member, or, facing abuse.

Either way, stress will always have a ‘stressor’, i.e., a factor that triggers the body and mind to feel stressed out.

On the other hand, anxiety may not have an identifiable trigger.

The origin:

Stress originates mostly from external factors (triggers/stressors) and is defined as physical or mental tension that is felt in response to that trigger.

Anxiety stems from internal fear that gets developed by a stressor. Anxiety is a response that the body and mind give to the uncertainty and doubts we feel about something.

Incidentally, this uncertainty or doubt can be triggered even without a stressor. Genetics, personality, and brain chemistry may also lead to anxiety in a person, without any firm reason.

The duration:

Stress usually goes away in short-term after the stressor (problem) is resolved and identified and managed on time.

Anxiety on the other hand can stay on for a long time even after the trigger (problem) is resolved. It can set in and turn into a disorder.

The feeling:

Stress makes a person feel overwhelmed, tired, or disinterested in taking action.

Anxiety increases the feeling of fear and dread, which in turn makes a person unable to take action.

The effects:

Physical effects of stress include headaches, alopecia (baldness), muscle pain, stomach ache, and heart problems.

Psychological effects of stress include loss of sleep, fatigue, feeling angry without reason, sadness, and lack of concentration.

Stress can lead to depression, anxiety, or burnout if not resolved at an early stage. It can also create debilitating physical effects like stomach ulcers, auto-immune disorders, stroke, and heart attack.

As for anxiety, if allowed to persist, or, if it does not respond to anxiety management techniques, anxiety can convert into disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and phobias (excessive, irrational fear) about something.

Psychological breakdown is one of the most serious effects of long-continuing anxiety.

Symptoms of stress and anxiety

In spite of the marked differences between the two, stress and anxiety both have some common symptoms, apart from having individual, independent symptoms as well.

Stress symptoms include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea
  • Irritability, unexplained angry outbursts
  • Stomach cramps
  • Heaviness in heart
  • Clenching of Jaw
  • Heartburn, Acid reflux
  • Unexplained aches and pains in joints
  • Trouble in sleeping
  • Binging
  • Trouble in getting enough sleep or insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • Pimples, acne
  • Loss of hair
  • Low immunity leading to infections and illnesses faster
  • Low sexual libido

Anxiety symptoms include:

  • Constant feelings of fear or dread
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling tense
  • Sweating profusely
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shaking involuntarily
  • Nervousness
  • Being hyper-alert
  • Frequent urination

Stress and anxiety also share some common symptoms such as having rapid heartbeats, breathing rapidly, and getting unexplained diarrhea or constipation.

If a person starts showing symptoms of substance abuse, alcohol abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts, these should be given immediate attention and intervention of psychological experts.

Tips to manage stress & anxiety

Stress and anxiety can both be resolved better when managed and/or treated at earlier stages. The key is to not let these problems turn from mild to severe.

When stress or anxiety become severe, they take more time to get resolved; they contribute to the development of other health problems; and, they require medical intervention.

While it is definitely advisable to see a mental health expert if the need be felt, there are other ways to manage these issues while they are mild. These are known as coping mechanisms.

Helpful coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety

Eat a nutrition-rich diet:

  • Eat a diet containing fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, fiber, grains, and protein.
  • They help build core immunity and protect the body from illnesses and infections that’re easy to catch when our immunity is low due to stress.
  • Avoid eating junk food filled with bad fats, foods heavy with sugar, and alcohol. They make the immune system weak and also add to body fats, thus increasing the risk for heart diseases, blood pressure, and diabetes.

Be physically active, preferably outdoors:

  • Get into the habit of taking a brisk walk, jogging, cycling, or running – preferably outdoors, around nature, instead of on a treadmill.
  • Exercise helps in loosening up tense muscles, reduces body fat, and improves immunity.
  • Being outdoors helps increase oxygen intake, and release happy hormones that beat the stress.

Practice relaxation techniques:

  • Breathing exercises like yoga, tai chi, visualization are some cost-effective ways to release stress and anxieties.
  • They help in reducing stress hormones, slowing the increased heart rate, lowering blood pressure, reducing anger and irritability, improving digestion, and reducing muscle tension and chronic pain.
  • To ensure best results, it is advisable to learn relaxation techniques from an expert, and practice them regularly.

Practice meditation and MBSR:

  • Meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) show wonderful positive effects on reducing stress, anxiety, and even depression.
  • Meditation helps the mind and body relax by focusing on breathing and being aware of one’s body in the present.
  • MBSR helps people realise how negative thoughts affect the body and mind, thus reducing stress, and improving focus, memory, and resilience.

Choose from a wide range of therapies:

  • A wide range of non-medical therapies are now available to indulge in to reduce stress and anxiety. For instance, the oils used in Aromatherapy have positive effects on the emotional part of the brain.
  • Dance therapy helps in loosening up of clenched muscles, allows expression of hidden emotions without words, promotes overall physical & mental wellbeing.
  • Laughter therapy helps decrease heart rate and blood pressure, and increases oxygen intake and the happy hormone endorphin.
  • Animal (pet) therapy helps boost positive happy hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin and reduces the stress hormones called cortisol, thus helping a person feel less stressed or anxious and more relaxed, happy, and free.

Opt for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

  • Practicing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a proven and effective way to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • This works on the premise of helping a person understand how their thoughts affect their behaviour/moods, how negative thoughts create problems for mental health, and how reframing thoughts can help manage stress and anxiety in productive ways.

Seek medical help:

  • If the stress or anxiety continues to persist in spite of practicing above-mentioned techniques, it is best to seek medical help.
  • Psychiatrists and counsellors are better-equipped to understand the root of the problem, and prescribe appropriate practices or medication to resolve the issue.


Stress and anxiety are mental health issues that have several physical, emotional, and behavioural side-effects on a person.

If allowed to fester, they become more serious overtime. Hence, timely intervention and due attention is very important to prevent the issues from growing further from the mild stage.

While there are several alternate management techniques one can practice, there is no shame in consulting a mental health expert if the need is felt. Just as physical health is important and we go to a doctor if something goes wrong with that, so also, mental health is equally important to lead a happy, balanced life.

Hence, recognize the stressors, practice stress/anxiety management techniques, be open about your problems instead of hiding them, and visit a mental health expert if needed.

After all, a stress- and anxiety-free mind is the key to a happy life.

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