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Stress vs. Anxiety – Knowing the Difference Is Critical to Your Health

Most people experience stress and anxiety at some point in their lives. Depending on the level of severity, they can detrimentally impact one’s quality of life. Although stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms – uneasiness, tension, headaches, high blood pressure and loss of sleep – they have very different origins. Determining which one you’re experiencing is critical to finding an effective treatment plan and feeling better.

Generally, stress is a response to an external cause, such as a tight deadline at work or having an argument with a friend, and subsides once the situation has been resolved. Because stress is caused by external factors, tackling these head-on can help. If you’re experiencing prolonged, chronic stress, there are many ways to manage and reduce your symptoms, including physical activity, breathing exercises, adequate sleep and taking time connect with others.

Anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to stress; its origin is internal. Anxiety is typically characterized by a “persistent feeling of apprehension or dread” in situations that are not actually threatening. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed. In more severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are classified in a variety of ways: generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Those living with anxiety, as well as chronic stress, will likely benefit from supervised care and should consider seeing a licensed mental health professional.

It’s important to know how to identify and differentiate signs of stress and anxiety. Stress is a common trigger for anxiety and it’s important to catch anxiety symptoms early to prevent development of an anxiety disorder.

That’s why Mental Health First Aid teaches participants to notice signs of distress. A panic attack, for example, is a symptom of anxiety, not stress. During a panic attack, people will experience symptoms like those of a heart attack, including chest pain, sweating, feeling faint, nausea, chills and breathing difficulties. It develops abruptly and usually peaks within 10 minutes. (Of course, to be safe, never hesitate to call 911.)

Take a Mental Health First Aid course near you today to learn more ways to tackle stress and anxiety in your life and community.