What differentiates anxiety and stress?

The symptoms of anxiety and stress are very similar. Stress is a result of external influences or stressors, like relationship issues, a move, a job change, or a health problem. Stress can have a range of symptoms, from headaches and uneasiness to sleeping problems and nausea. Anxiety is a result of internal influences that activate these feelings and physical responses. While those with anxiety can be triggered by external influences, the resulting symptoms far outweigh the impact of the trigger. 

Does time make the difference between anxiety and stress?

Many people believe that the difference between stress and anxiety is the length of time that one experiences symptoms. The myth is that stress is short term, and anxiety is long-term. This is not exactly true, as stress can affect a person over a long period of time. Having a sick family member or being in a toxic relationship can introduce stress into your life over extended lengths of time.

Don’t get confused by the word ‘Anxiety’

The Anxiety Emotion

Another confusing section of the anxiety versus stress question are the two definitions of anxiety that can muddle people’s interpretations of the comparison. The first is the emotion of anxiety. The anxiety emotion is a general feeling of unease or nervousness about an event or situation. This is a fleeting feeling that anyone can experience when they are facing uncertainty. Giving a speech or going on a date can bring up feelings of anticipation or apprehension that we call anxiety. Having General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is much more far-reaching and can affect someone’s quality of life long-term.

Many people mistakenly mix up the emotion with the disorder. Phrases like “I have anxiety about this” can be misinterpreted as “I have anxiety disorder,” when the person actually meant, “I am nervous about an upcoming exam.”

Anxiety Disorders

This anxiety emotion is very different from anxiety disorders, which are long-lasting mental impairments in which sufferers face debilitating symptoms including excess worry, poor concentration, nausea, sleeping problems, rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, racing thoughts and irritability, among others.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the population of the United States every year. The most common anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and it must be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.

How many people does stress affect?

While the ADAA reported that anxiety disorders affect roughly 18 percent of the population, an article from the American Psychological Association reports that the majority of Americans live with high levels of stress.

The article reads, “Stress is up. Most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Concerns about money, work and the economy top the list of most frequently cited sources of stress. Fears about job stability are on the rise, with 49 percent of respondents citing such fears as a source of stress — up from 44 percent last year.”

Severe anxiety symptoms

Anxiety disorders can also branch into more severe symptoms, such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing either of these symptoms, please seek emergency medical attention. For more severe anxiety symptoms, inpatient hospitalization is sometimes necessary to reestablish baseline and keep the person safe.

Salt Lake Behavioral Health is an inpatient psychiatric facility, and we address self-harm, suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, PTSD, panic attacks, and other mental health conditions. If you or a family member is questioning whether you require inpatient treatment, our mental health professionals offer no-cost mental health assessments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they can answer your questions about seeking treatment. Just call 801-264-6000.

The final verdict

The short answer to the question “Are stress and anxiety the same thing?” is no. Anxiety disorders affect a little less than a fifth of Americans and are based on biological functions and chemical imbalances in the brain. Stress is much more wide-spread and is a result of external events.