A photo of a woman looking anxious and stressed while leaning over their laptop to represent the topic of the article - What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?

What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?

From time to time while talking with clients, I’ve noticed that people often mix up stress and anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to use stress and anxiety interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. So what’s the difference?



What Is Stress?


According to Selye (1956), the father of stress research, Hans Selye, M.D, defined stress as being “a non-specific response of the body to a demand”. This simple definition is still recognised to this day as one of the best physiological definitions for stress and its effect on our bodies.


Stress is a normal bodily response to certain types of change, demand, or threat that can manifest emotionally, mentally, or physically (Bridges to Recovery). This can be in response to internal or external pressures, as a way to protect from potential harm so the body can regain its normal state (Selye, 1956).


Stress is inevitable. To be entirely without stress is to be dead!

Selye (1956)


Everyone will experience stress, but not everyone will experience stress in the same way, because we all respond to stress differently (Bridges to Recovery). This is one of the reasons why making comparisons is so problematic.


But not all stress is unpleasant (Selye, 1956). Good stress can help motivate us and help us focus on what we need to do (Bridges to Recovery). Whereas bad stress can cause insomnia, procrastination, can be determinantal to our wellbeing, and take a physical toll on our bodies.


Stress symptoms

According to Healthline, stress symptoms can include:


  • Dizziness.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Digestive issues, including nausea and diarrhoea.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anger or irritability.
  • Headaches.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Restlessness.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Cause an increase in heart rate, also known as tachycardia.




What Is Anxiety?


Whereas stress is where your body responds to some form of internal or external demand placed on the body, anxiety is a person’s internal reaction to stress (Mental Health First Aid USA).


Just like stress, anxiety is also a normal response by the body. However, anxiety can become problematic when it becomes an oversized reaction to what would be considered reasonable (Bridges to Recovery). Unlike stress, anxiety can persist after the situation, object, or person of concern has passed (Mental Health First Aid USA).


Anxiety is usually a feeling and psychological state of anticipation of potential harm (Mental Health First Aid USA). This is why you can feel like you’re at risk of harm in non-harmful situations when you’ve developed an anxiety disorder. This is what happened to me when I developed my two anxiety disorders.


Anxiety symptoms

According to Healthline, anxiety can involve the same symptoms as stress, but also the following:


  • A feeling of impending doom.
  • Tingling or numbness.
  • Brain fog.




What’s The Relationship Between Stress And Anxiety?


Why is it important to know the similarities and differences between stress and anxiety? Well, although stress and anxiety can go together like a hand in a glove, with stressful events triggering anxiety (Bridges to Recovery), they’re not the same thing. If you can understand this, you’ll be better able to manage both stress and anxiety as they rear their annoying little heads (Psych Central).


Stress and anxiety come with biological nuances that can be complex but distinguish the two states (Daviu, Bruchas, Moghaddam, Sandi, and Beyeler, 2019). But that margin of separation can be seen as a fine line (APA), because of their overlapping relationship.


Simply put, the key difference between stress and anxiety is the presence of a specific trigger, as stress is usually tied to a specific situation (Healthline). Think work deadline and how the stress will go once the work deadline has been achieved. This differs from anxiety because that doesn’t need a specific trigger or stressor. This means that someone can experience persistent and excessive worry absent of stressors (APA).


This presence of a stressor or not is an essential distinction between stress and anxiety. This is the difference between the stress of being involved in an accident and the worrying that you could end up in an accident if you leave the home or drive a car alone (Daviu, Bruchas, Moghaddam, Sandi, and Beyeler, 2019).


Luckily, the (APA) states that stress and anxiety in their mild forms can be managed using the same coping mechanisms.




Stress And Anxiety Coping Strategies


I won’t go too in-depth on this, as I have articles that cover ways to manage stress and anxiety as separate issues already, but I’ll cover a few of the basics.



Most things are easier to manage when you’re able to get a good night’s sleep, which, for some of us, is easier said than done. If you’re struggling to sleep, then check out my article on CBT-I (click here to read it) which has information on how to overcome insomnia by improving your sleep hygiene.


Another way to improve your sleep is to avoid using the snooze button, which can make it harder for you to wake up and get through the day.


Physical activity

This can be anything from doing yoga, going to a HIIT class, or just going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes (APA). Every little bit helps, and along with it helping you tackle stress, it will also help you to improve your sleep.



As I said in my article about the mental health benefits of nature (click here to read it), spending time around nature can reduce stress. Even a house plant or images of nature can have this positive effect. But if you’re going to start adding walks to your day, then why not go for a walk through your local park?



Hobbies and interests are the best way to help us manage our stress, and give our lives a sense of meaning outside of others. So, return to an old hobby or take a new one up.




Breathing exercises

These are good for a lot of things. They help you relax and they can help you control your anxiety, so why not give them a go? To wet your whistle, here’s one of the breathing exercises from my previous article on the subject.


This 4-7-8 breathing exercise is pretty straightforward, much like the box breathing exercise. All you need to do is:


  1. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
  4. Repeat this at least four times, or as necessary.


Eat nutritiously

According to the APA, the release of the stress hormone cortisol can cause fat and sugar cravings, which would explain a lot.


*steps away from the chocolate bar*


This means that a more balanced lifestyle when it comes to food can protect our health while also allowing us to have a steady and reliable source of energy.


The picture is split in two, with the top image being of a White woman looking stressed leaning over their laptop. The bottom image being of a White man pushing over boxes labelled things like stress and anxiety. The two images are separated by the article title - What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?



A lot of stress and anxiety can be avoided by practising reframing. Here are a few tips to help with that:




I couldn’t end this section without talking about journaling. This is a great all-purpose self-care activity that can help you to deal with stress and anxiety through the use of journal prompts. You could just journal to offload your thoughts, or you could use it as part of a problem-solving activity.



Talk to your boss, talk to your family and friends, talk to a professional, or talk to someone online. It doesn’t matter who you talk to about it, but it’ll feel better to do so.



Whether or not you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, be kind to yourself. Always be kind to yourself.


Additional options

For more ideas on how to help manage your stress and anxiety, check out my articles on stress by clicking here and my article on anxiety by clicking here and here.






Just because stress and anxiety share a lot of criteria, that doesn’t make them the same thing. Excessive stress will lead to burnout, whereas excessive anxiety can be debilitating in its own way. Either way, both can seriously affect your quality of life. It’s fortunate that although these are separate beasts, what works for one can work for the other as you learn to tame them.


As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with stress and anxiety in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.


Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.







Daviu, N., Bruchas, M. R., Moghaddam, B., Sandi, C., & Beyeler, A. (2019). Neurobiological links between stress and anxiety. Neurobiology of stress11, 100191. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289519300438.

Selye, H. (1956). What is stress?. Metabolism, 5(5), 525-530. Retrieved from https://www.pacdeff.com/pdfs/What%20is%20Stress.pdf.

Vidhya, S. (2021). Grounding Techniques of Emotion Regulation for Teachers. Journal of Educational Research and Extension, 58(2), 20-23. Retrieved from https://www.srkvcoe.org/JERE/articles/Vol_58_Iss_2.pdf#page=26.

32 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety?

  1. Great post! A lack of sleep always makes me feel much more stressed and anxious. It’s important to understand the link between these two issues- but also what makes them different. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Yes yes! This post is so important, especially if you believe you are suffering with anxiety. Sometimes I think I used to confuse some of my feelings. However, probably like many stress can trigger anxiety and I have certainly learned that. It is a great post to explain the differences. This will be so helpful! Thank you for sharing.
    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

  3. So true.

    Stress is a physical response.

    For me – anxiety is a set of cognitions.

    I remember reading about the stress-diathesis model

    and about eustress and DIStress.

    I am glad you looked at the biological side – less blame and shame that way!

    Anxiety can have a way of making people feel weak and incompetent.

    Also that sense of exposure [I remember that post of yours about the spotlight syndrome].

    And what happens when you say: “I feel stress” and “I feel anxiety”.

    Selye was a great and pioneering researcher.

    We came to learn a lot about industrial and workplace stress as more women came into the workforce in the 1970s – 2000s.

  4. Sleep has got to be top of the list when it comes to helping the brain repair and hopefully improving anxiety or stress. It’s good to understand what some of the triggers might be for either too.

  5. Once again a thoughtful and informative post. I think companionship is a big factor that helps a person to reduce stress and anxiety. We can find a companion in a book or a pet, or Nature or journaling or WordPress community. We find a way to connect as well as express ourselves with a good companion by our side. 😊

  6. These are great tips, honestly, before I wasn’t able to tell between the two but over time, I started learn more about feelings. This post is very helpful.

  7. I’ll admit. I didn’t know the difference between stress and anxiety. Thanks for clearly explaining it.

  8. I definitely find that blogging helps manage my stress, not really my anxiety though. Meds work for that, most of the time. I think my anxiety is very much self-esteem related, so when I do blog part of me is always worried it won’t go down well, or someone will say something nasty (which has never happened, might I add!) etc. It’s silly things, I know I need to work on, but hey. One step at a time haha.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Problematic anxiety exists in the area of potential fears, so fearing that something might not go down well, even though there’s no proof that’ll happen, makes sense from an anxiety point of view. Just don’t let those kinds of thoughts win. Challenge them. As you’ve said, you’ve never had a bad reaction to what you’ve blogged about, so that is evidence your anxiety is wrong, and with each new blog post you’re further proving your anxiety is wrong. So it’s safe to assume your anxiety is lying to you. Furthermore, even if one day one of your posts doesn’t go down well, so what? You can edit your post if you feel their point is valid, you can have a discussion about what the issue might be, you can grow from the experience, etc. There are so many options for how to handle it, and you will be able to handle it

  9. Great post. We often think they are one and the same and this is not true. We need to find better ways to handle our stress or else we won’t last long

  10. Understanding the difference and symptoms of each is huge. And the list of coping strategies you gave was great. Getting out in nature is something I need to do more even if it is tough being in a city.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. These are great tips, honestly, before I wasn’t able to tell between the two but over time, I started learn more about feelings. This post is very helpful.

  12. This is a fantastic post that highlights the differences between stress and anxiety. It’s also great that you shared some coping strategies!

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