The terms anxiety and stress are often used interchangeably, but each is a distinct experience that has a unique effect on your mental health.
Understanding the difference between anxiety vs stress can help you determine the best route to take to recovery and can even guide you toward different treatment methods to help reduce your mental health symptoms.
What Is the Difference Between Anxiety vs. Stress?
Both anxiety and stress are natural human emotions, not necessarily signs of a mental health disorder. But when you start to experience excessive levels of either, it can result in severe disruption of your everyday life, and seeking out anxiety or stress treatment may be the best course of action.
Deciding which treatment path to take starts with understanding the differences between anxiety vs. stress and understanding how each experience can impact your everyday life.
Stress is the body’s reaction to emotional, mental, or physical demands. Your body cannot differentiate between physical and emotional stress, and all the different stressors in your life will add up to a cumulative experience of stress.
Stress is the tension experienced from difficult situations. The sources of stress are endless but may include situations such as:
- Relationship challenges
- Demands at work
- Physical strain
- Having too many responsibilities
- Experiencing discrimination or abuse
- Major life changes
Not all stress is unhealthy. A moderate amount of stress can help you move toward your personal goals, make meaningful changes in your life, or build and maintain your relationships.
But when you face too many stressful situations at once, it can take an incredible toll on both your body and your mental health. Experiencing high levels of stress for extended periods is often called “chronic stress” and is a known predictor of several mental health challenges, including anxiety disorders.
Most people have a threshold for stress that is completely manageable, but everyday pressures can load on more stress than they can handle. If stress is below your threshold, it typically isn’t a problem, but when your stress runs over, it may feel like you can never get ahead or even keep your head above water.
Symptoms of Stress
When you experience high levels of stress, you can show several physical and emotional symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or overburdened
- Feeling anxious
- Irritability or anger
- Muscle tension
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Sleep difficulties
Symptoms of stress will often worsen the longer people experience chronic stress. This can ultimately lead to the diagnosis of a mental health disorder — typically depression or anxiety.
How to Stop Stressing
One of the key distinguishing features of stress is that it is directly related to outside events or situations. The surest way to remove the experience of stress is to remove the stressors. This could be taking a vacation from work, taking a step down in your responsibilities, or learning to say “no” when people ask more of you.
But while this path to stress reduction is relatively simple, it’s not always practical. Many people can’t afford to take time off from work, or they have responsibilities they can’t simply step away from.
The other path is to build your capacity for stress. This can be done through targeted stress treatments at a mental health centre or by incorporating healthy lifestyle changes such as exercise, meditation, or a self-care routine.
Anxiety can often have significant overlap with stress. As seen above, anxiety can be a symptom of chronic stress, and people who experience overwhelming stress often develop an anxiety disorder.
But the experience of anxiety is distinct. Anxiety is a more narrowly defined experience and specifically relates to feeling excessive worry or apprehension about future or present events.
Similar to stress, anxiety in small amounts isn’t always necessarily harmful. It can help you prepare for future situations or avoid danger. But when out of control, anxiety leads people to worry and fret over dangers that don’t exist or are out of proportion to the situation at hand.
When a person’s anxiety starts interfering with their everyday life, it is often a sign of an underlying anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
While each disorder has a specific presentation, people with any type of anxiety disorder all share excessive worry and disruption in their everyday lives.
Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety include both mental health symptoms and physical symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Excessive worry
- Thoughts running out of control
- Trouble breathing
- Inability to self-soothe or calm down
- Feeling like your heart is beating out of your chest
- Stomach tightness
People with different anxiety disorders may experience these symptoms in response to different events. For example, a person with social anxiety might feel the onset of symptoms when they are faced with public speaking, while a person with a specific phobia may only feel them when exposed to a specific fear.
In generalised anxiety disorder, one of the most common diagnoses, people may experience the symptoms of anxiety in nearly any event or situation.
How to Stop Anxiety
Unlike stress, avoiding the source of anxiety isn’t always an effective solution. For people with generalised anxiety disorder, the experience of anxiety can happen in even the most common and necessary of life events.
The most effective method for stopping anxiety is professional mental health treatment, either in the form of anxiety therapy or evidence-based anxiety treatments. These methods can help you not only see reductions in your anxiety symptoms but ultimately achieve lasting recovery.
Traditional Anxiety and Stress Treatments
Traditional anxiety and stress treatments generally fall into two main categories – talk therapy approaches and medication. Both styles of treatment are widely regarded as evidence-based and can help the vast majority of people living with either of these mental health challenges.
Stress or anxiety therapy involves sitting down with a therapist to discuss your problems and work toward solutions. Multiple styles of talk therapy can achieve these goals, including:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy
- Dialectical behaviour therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy
While each style of therapy differs slightly, the goal of any therapy is to help people learn different ways of thinking about their situations, coach them in healthier and more effective ways of managing and dealing with stress or anxiety, and guide them toward living lives free of the strains of stress or anxiety.
A number of medications are used in the treatment of stress and anxiety. This might include antidepressant or anxiolytic medications, depending on what your unique challenges are and how your psychiatrist sees fit to approach reducing your symptoms.
Starting mental health medication always begins with a trained psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist will help you find the medication that works best for you, track your progress over time, and make adjustments as needed to ensure you’re reaching your goals.
Novel Stress and Anxiety Treatments
While therapy and medication are both effective methods, they don’t always work for everyone. However, new and innovative treatment methods can be effective even when traditional treatment methods fail.
Approaches such as ketamine-assisted healing and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation go a bit further than traditional treatment methods and can lead to dramatic reductions in symptoms in just a few treatments.
Ketamine-assisted healing combines traditional therapy approaches with the use of the dissociative psychedelic, ketamine, which has been used in the medical field as an anaesthetic for over fifty years and is largely considered safe with few adverse side effects.
Only recently has ketamine been used in treating anxiety or stress. The treatment process is relatively simple; after a brief screening and assessment, clients take a subanesthetic dose of the medicine. The effects of ketamine last for about two hours, and a therapist sits with you throughout the entire experience.
Ketamine works as a therapy incubator. The medicine helps people look at their anxiety objectively, make breakthroughs in talk therapy, and lower the barriers that often interfere with traditional talk therapy approaches.
Most people experience significant reductions in their symptoms in just a single session, and the results can last for months.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (Deep TMS) is an innovative approach to helping people heal from anxiety and stress. Nearly every psychological problem can be traced to roots in the brain, and more connections are being discovered constantly through the field of neuroscience.
Deep TMS uses that information, as well as detailed scans of your brain, to help target regions of the brain typically associated with stress or anxiety. Using a specialised helmet that provides brief electromagnetic impulses, these underactive brain regions can be stimulated, leading to dramatic reductions in the experience of anxiety or stress.
It is a non-invasive outpatient procedure that can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional therapy approaches. The direct approach of brain stimulation has repeatedly shown itself to be effective at helping people with treatment-resistant mental health challenges and can be an excellent option for people looking for new ways to overcome their stress or anxiety.
Start Treatment at APN London
APN London is a comprehensive mental health treatment centre that combines the best in traditional mental health treatments with novel and innovative approaches. Our team is dedicated to providing the best mental health options for our clients and can work with you to develop a personalised treatment plan to fit your needs.
- Banov, Michael D., Jonathan R. Young, Tyler Dunn, and Steven T. Szabo. “Efficacy and Safety of Ketamine in the Management of Anxiety and Anxiety Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Literature.” CNS Spectrums 25.3 (2020): 331-42. Print.
- Borwin Bandelow, Sophie Michaelis & Dirk Wedekind (2017) Treatment of anxiety disorders, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19:2, 93-107, DOI: 10.31887/ DCNS.2017.19.2/bbandelow
- Isserles, Moshe, et al. “Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Combined With Brief Exposure for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Prospective Multisite Randomized Trial.” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 90, no. 10, 2021, pp. 721-728, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2021.04.019. Accessed 22 Dec. 2023.