Anxiety vs. Stress: Understanding the Differences & When to Seek Help Thumbnail

Understand the differences between anxiety and stress and learn about their causes, symptoms, and effective treatment options.

Anxiety and stress are widespread mental health issues that many people experience at some point in their lives. While they may seem similar, there are key differences between the two. By understanding the distinctions between anxiety and stress, individuals can take the first step toward feeling better.

What is Stress?

Stress is an emotional, mental, and physical response to a perceived threat or challenge. It can be caused by many factors, such as work, relationships, and financial problems. Stress can generate both positive and negative effects on the body, depending on the severity and duration of the stressor and an individual's ability to cope with it.

Short-term stress can be beneficial as it can help an individual to respond quickly to a difficult situation. However, long-term stress can have negative effects on an individual's physical and mental health.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety that interfere with daily life, it might become a psychological disorder.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by persistent, excessive fear, worry, apprehension, and avoidance of certain objects or situations. In addition to affecting a person's behavior and emotions, these disorders can also affect a person's physical health.

What Causes Stress and Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are complex conditions that can have multiple causes. They can be triggered by a wide range of internal and external factors. Some of the most common causes of stress and anxiety include but are not limited to:

  • Trauma: Exposure to traumatic events is a leading cause of stress and anxiety. Traumatic events, such as physical or emotional abuse, sexual assault, natural disasters, and war, can cause severe emotional distress leading to the development of stress and anxiety disorders. Trauma can also cause symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance behaviors, which can further contribute to stress and anxiety.
  • Major life transitions: Life changes and major transitions, such as getting married, starting a new job, or having a baby, are common circumstances that can lead to stress and anxiety. These changes can be exciting, but they can also be overwhelming and cause feelings of uncertainty and insecurity.
  • Genetics and biology: Research has shown that genetics and biology can also play a role in the development of stress and anxiety. Individuals who have a family history of these conditions have a higher chance of developing them. Additionally, certain physical or chemical imbalances in the brain can also influence the development of stress and anxiety.
  • Chronic medical conditions: Chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are also common triggers for stress and anxiety. The physical symptoms of these conditions, as well as the uncertainty and fear associated with them, can leave people feeling stressed and anxious about the future.
  • Substance abuse: Alcohol and drug abuse can change the way the brain functions, leading to the development of these conditions. Financial problems, relationship issues, and legal trouble related to substance abuse can also create hardships that trigger stress and anxiety. Alcohol and drug use may also temporarily reduce stress or anxiety, so they may also be used inappropriately to treat symptoms associated with stress or anxiety.
  • Social and economic factors: Poverty, unemployment, and lack of social support are also common triggers for the development of stress and anxiety. These factors can cause feelings of insecurity and uncertainty, which can exacerbate these conditions.
  • Work-related stress: Job insecurity, long working hours, and a heavy workload can cause people to feel overwhelmed and burn out, ultimately leading to stress and anxiety.
  • Relationship problems: Relationship problems, such as conflicts with family and friends, are also common causes of stress and anxiety. These problems can cause feelings of isolation and can lead to the development of these conditions.
  • Negative thinking patterns: Negative thinking patterns, such as rumination and catastrophizing, can cause individuals to become fixated on negative thoughts and can cause feelings of stress or anxiety.

Differentiating Stress from Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are closely related and can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from one another. However, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Stress is a response to a specific event or situation, while anxiety is a general feeling of unease or worry that may not be specifically tied to a situation or event.
  • Stress is usually short-lived and subsides once the stressor is removed or the individual has successfully coped with it. Anxiety is often ongoing and persists even when there is no obvious stressor present.
  • Stress often causes physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and fatigue, while anxiety is more likely to cause emotional symptoms such as nervousness, worry, and fear.
  • Stress is usually a normal response to a specific event, while anxiety is often exaggerated and disproportionate to the stressor.

While stress and anxiety are two separate conditions, it’s common for people to experience both stress and anxiety simultaneously. When symptoms of stress and anxiety persist, it's important to consult with a mental health provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment for Stress and Anxiety

Left untreated, stress and anxiety can have a significant impact on an individual's emotional, mental, and physical well-being. While there are various ways to manage these conditions, psychotherapy and medication are two effective treatment options that can help individuals regain control of their emotions improving their overall well-being.


Psychotherapy, also known as counseling or talk therapy, involves talking with a trained therapist or counselor to help identify the underlying causes of stress and anxiety and develop strategies to manage them. Talk therapy can also help individuals develop a sense of awareness to understand their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This can help identify negative thought patterns and lead to better symptom management.

There are different types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches people to change negative thought patterns, and mindfulness-based therapies, which teaches them how to calm down and “let go” of worries.

Interpersonal therapy focuses on an individual's relationships and interactions with others. It can help individuals improve their communication and relationship skills, which can also help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Another form of talk therapy, known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), helps individuals accept the things they cannot change and commit to taking action to improve their lives. This technique can also help individuals develop coping strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety.


Medication is another treatment option that can help manage severe cases of stress and anxiety. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines, can help regulate the chemicals in the brain that control mood and anxiety.

In many cases, psychotherapy and medication are used in combination with each other. A mental health professional may also recommend other forms of treatment, such as exercise and relaxation techniques, to achieve the best results.

It's important to remember that everyone's experience of stress and anxiety is unique, so you may need to experiment to find the right treatment plan for you.

When to Seek Professional Help

When symptoms of stress and anxiety begin to interfere with your daily life, it's crucial to seek professional help. Common signs that indicate it’s time to consult a mental health professional help include:

  • Persistent feelings of worry or fear: If you experience excessive or irrational fear or worry on a daily basis, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
  • Difficulty sleeping: Stress and anxiety can cause insomnia, making it difficult to stay asleep or fall asleep.
  • Physical symptoms: Stress and anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, and stomach aches.
  • Avoiding certain activities: If you find yourself avoiding certain activities or situations due to stress or anxiety, it may be time to seek professional help.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Anxiety can make it hard to focus on tasks or make decisions.
  • Lack of interest in daily activities: Stress and anxiety can lead to a lack of interest in things you once enjoyed.
  • Substance abuse: Some people may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress and anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm: If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, it's critical to seek professional help immediately.

Everyone's experience with stress and anxiety is unique, and what may be manageable for one person may be debilitating for another. It's important to trust your instincts and seek professional help when you feel that your stress and anxiety are affecting your daily life.

Compassionate Stress and Anxiety Care

Anxiety and stress are two distinct yet related emotional states that can have a profound impact on our daily lives. Understanding the difference between the two is essential in addressing and managing these feelings effectively. If you are struggling with anxiety or stress and it is affecting your daily life, seeking professional help can make a significant difference.

CHE mental health clinic offers a wide range of services that can assist individuals in managing their symptoms and enhancing their overall well-being. Our team of trained mental health professionals provides individual online therapy and medication management to relieve symptoms related to stress and anxiety. Remember that you don't have to go through this alone. CHE is here to support you on your journey to better mental health.

For more information about stress and anxiety and treatment options offered by CHE, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk and ready to listen.