08 Oct 3 Concrete Ways to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress

Trudy Jacobsen

It’s not uncommon for people to use anxiety and stress interchangeably. After all, they do have their similarities. For example, both anxiety and stress display physical symptoms such as stomach issues, muscle tension, insomnia, and more. And both can wreak havoc on your peace of mind, disrupting your regular routine. Yet, they aren’t exactly the same. In fact, there are a handful of very important differences that separate anxiety from stress and vice versa.

Knowing these key separators will help you identify the issue more quickly. Thus, guiding you to the best plan of action or treatment.

Here are three concrete ways to tell the difference.

1. Do Symptoms Hang Around?

As mentioned, both anxiety and stress have a lot of the same symptoms. Because of this cross-over, they’re often mistaken for one another. Yet, the one defining factor in all these symptoms is the length of time they inflict you. So, ask yourself, how long have you been experiencing the symptoms?

Symptoms of stress typically stick around until the external cause is resolved—work deadline, college test, broken vehicle, etc. In short, stress is caused by outside stimuli and retreats when the situation has passed. It’s a natural reaction which can motivate top-notch performance.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a response to what you feel on the inside. Which, often, is a feeling of dread or apprehension. And, most importantly, this feeling doesn’t find any resolution. It can last for weeks, months, or even years.

2. Does the Worry Match Reality?

It’s normal to experience some level of stress or anxiety in response to certain challenging situations. However, you can tell the difference between the two by how well the worrisome thoughts match reality. For example, being afraid you’re going to stumble over a work presentation is a valid worry. You may very well say the wrong thing, forget the next point, or mispronounce a word.

These sorts of thoughts are a healthy expression of stress. In other words, it’s your body and mind preparing itself for the big situation.

Anxiety is a bit more diabolical. In the same scenario, anxiety will likely cause you to worry about messing up your whole presentation too. Taking it a step further… anxiety may also cause you to start worrying about losing your job due to the botched presentation. And… if you lost your job, then your house could fall into foreclosure, forcing you to live with a family member and casting shame on your entire family. Worse even… you may have to move across the country in one of those big moving vans… and those have no rear view mirrors, so you could easily get into a deadly accident while driving one… and… You get the picture, right?

Clearly, anxiety can take the stress and add mounds of unrealistic worries onto it.

3. What Does Your Body Say?

Listening to your body can be incredibly helpful in differentiating anxiety and stress. Of course, they have similar symptoms, as mentioned earlier. But stress loses its grip whereas anxiety hangs on for the long haul. When you experience stress, your body often goes into overdrive. After a stressful situation, your body normally returns to a calm state. When it fails to release the tension, however, it can turn into anxiety.

Pay close attention to whether you feel on edge 24/7 or if you seem hypervigilant. Can you relax or do you always have to be completing a task? These are all little red flags that your body is trying to tell you something. Namely, that your autonomic nervous system isn’t regulating correctly. So, listen to your body. It will respond to stress like a roller coaster—to anxiety like a rocket.

If you’re struggling with symptoms that are disrupting your life, please reach out today on (07) 3282 5453. Together, we can review your symptoms to determine the issue and most appropriate treatment path.