Here Are The Key Differences Between Stress And Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are natural pieces of the human experience and often present themselves to alert us that something is off and needs our attention. But if left unmanaged in a healthy manner, they can overwhelm the system and interfere with our well-being (via Bridges to Recovery). The rise in mental health talk over the past decade is a wonderful societal shift, and understanding the inner workings of our flight or fight responses can aid in greater emotional healing. So, if you're feeling irritable and scared, and your heart rate is up, it's important to recognize what's going on in your system. Is it anxiety? Stress? Something else altogether?

Once you can identify which one you're experiencing, even the first step of action could greatly reduce overwhelm. The little positive efforts do add up and even if it's taking a while to find some peace, try not to blame yourself (via The Mighty).

Stress tends to have an obvious trigger

One of the easiest ways to differentiate stress from anxiety is by looking at the situation you're experiencing at the moment. Is there an apparent trigger? If you're feeling overwhelmed because you're under deadline at work and the school called to tell you your child is feeling sick, that is bound to be stress, meaning once those particular obstacles are handled, you will no longer be overwhelmed (via Healthline). If you know you just have to get through a busy, difficult week, and then things will calm down, and you'll feel better, that's another indicator that the unease you're feeling isn't anxiety but stress from circumstances.

Anxiety typically doesn't subside in the absence of threat

Unlike stress, anxiety won't resolve itself once you're out of an undesirable situation. Anxiety lingers, and you often won't be able to pinpoint why you're feeling anxious. This can be a really tricky state to exist in. You might be having what looks like an amazing day from the outside, but your personal experience of the day isn't joyful or relaxing. Anxiety can become problematic when you're doing all you can to take care of yourself -– eating well, exercising, sleeping, staying hydrated, drinking water, and seeing friends, and you still just feel off. Another sign that you may need help managing anxiety is the presence of panic attacks (via Bridges to Recovery).

Brain fog is a symptom of anxiety

Feeling a bit numbed out and being unable to think clearly is another indicator that you're experiencing anxiety rather than stress. You might have a difficult time focusing and are apt to forget important events or responsibilities. Anxiety can leave us feeling depleted as we have to use extra energy to work through the anxious feelings and thoughts, making it more difficult to do simple daily tasks (via Medical News Today). Brain fog can occur when we are living in a prolonged state of anxiety. 

Stress is more external, while anxiety is internal

Some symptoms can easily tell you whether you're experiencing stress or anxiety. If you have muscle pain, insomnia, episodes of anger, and loved ones are telling you that you look tired or stressed -– chances are it is, indeed, stress. Anxiety is typically more of an internal experience, and you may be able to mask it well. Stress is a little trickier to conceal. If you can't stop worrying and catastrophizing about something that hasn't happened and isn't likely to happen, even when things appear to be going pretty well, you're likely anxious (via American Psychological Association).

Anxiety might be managed by long term lifestyle changes

We can't remove stressful events from our lives completely. Various problems will always arise. But as the cause of anxiety is trickier to identify, there are some overarching lifestyle changes you can make that may lessen the presence of anxious feelings in your life. The Mighty suggests making your bed each morning, limiting time on social media, implementing a mindfulness practice, journaling, and limiting caffeine intake. You may want to also try some natural remedies for anxiety, like calming teas. Combating anxiety from the ground up with healthy daily practices could be a big helper in your overall well-being.