What’s the Difference between Stress and Anxiety?

It’s your average day at work, and you’re feeling pretty frazzled. Are you experiencing stress or anxiety? Knowing the difference can help you find coping mechanisms or treatment options that will help.

What Is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension, usually caused by an external pressure of some sort. A certain amount of stress is entirely normal, and it can be a good thing. 

Consider, for example, the stress you feel when preparing for a big presentation at work. You can channel that stress to help you be productive and create meaningful content. 

Stress doesn’t become a problem until it lingers or comes back repeatedly. When you experience too much stress—or don’t find healthy ways to cope with it—stress can be harmful to your health.

What Is Anxiety?

To define anxiety, we’re going to refer back to the definition of stress we shared above. Stress is a “feeling of physical or emotional tension, usually caused by an external pressure.” That external pressure is what’s known as a stressor.

Anxiety causes the same feelings as stress, but those feelings stick around even when the stressor is gone. If you were feeling anxious, it would cause mental, emotional and physical strain on the body long after that presentation we talked about earlier.

It’s important to note that we’re talking about occasional anxiety, or feeling anxious, in this blog. This type of anxiety comes and goes, which is different from anxiety related to an anxiety disorder, which is a type of mental health condition. 

How to Cope with Stress or Anxiety

We mentioned above that prolonged or recurring stress can harm your health. So can anxiety. Uncontrolled stress or anxiety can cause issues like: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Gastrointestinal conditions

Stress and anxiety are also associated with a higher risk of health issues like heart disease. It’s important to find healthy ways of managing these emotional reactions. Understand your response to stress with this online tool.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress and Anxiety

Move your Body Often

Regular exercise is an important part of managing stress and anxiety. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, such as brisk walking or jogging. That’s just more than 20 minutes per day.

Prioritize Getting Enough Sleep

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Are you getting enough? If your sleep could use a boost, give your sleep hygiene a refresh. Make your bedroom cool and dark, and keep technology outside of it. Set a consistent bedtime and wake time so your body knows when it’s time to sleep.

Build a Gratitude Habit

Regularly think of things you’re thankful for and express those things in different ways. You can write them in a journal, share them in the form of compliments to others or include them in a daily prayer. The practice of gratitude gives your physical and mental health a boost.

Look for Healthy Coping Tools

If your reaction to feeling stressed or anxious is to hit the drive-thru for fries or head outside to smoke, your coping mechanisms are also a danger to your health. Find ways to relax and reset, such as journaling, meditating, practicing yoga, exercising, socializing with friends or reading.

Primary Care at University Health

Sometimes our best techniques still won’t solve the problem when it comes to stress or anxiety. If you find yourself regularly feeling overwhelmed, talk with your primary care provider, who can help you find a solution that will work for you.

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