The Similarities and Differences Between Anxiety and Stress

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Anxiety and stress are two similar mental health conditions that consume the minds of individuals who live exceptionally busy lives. Frequently, there is a vague boundary between the two, with little guidance about how to cope with both in a constructive way. Further, the stigma around stress and anxiety portrays the conditions negatively, rendering the topic sensitive and avoided. Nevertheless, there are a variety of resources available, targeting the severity of symptoms.


When faced with anxiety, many believe there are only two options: hide and dive into deeper anxiety or conquer the intimidating emotion. The first step to handling anxiety is understanding the signs and symptoms indicative of this condition and the ways it can impact our day-to-day lives. See our first article in this series for more information on this specific topic.


Typically, anxiety presents itself as some combination of nervousness, restlessness, and tension. Experiencing a constant feeling of impending doom is also fairly common. The individual is likely experiencing a whirlwind of emotions and will face difficulty concentrating.


Many teenagers experience general types of anxiety depending on their background and exposure. From nerve-racking presentations to intimidating social interactions, anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of situations in one’s daily life. Generalized anxiety is a commonly experienced form and is a combination of excessive worry about activities and interactions that are out of proportion to the actual circumstances. In particular, social anxiety produces very high feelings of fear and causes a person to avoid social situations due to feelings of self-consciousness. Both of these types of anxiety may also cause an individual to develop a panic disorder as a result of repeated feelings of fear.


On the other hand, stress is the body’s reaction to pressure from a specific situation or event. Depending on the situation, our bodies have various reactions to both physical and mental stresses. These may include aches, chest pain, heart racing, headaches, dizziness, shaking, and sleeping difficulties.


Stress can also cause a person to experience mental and emotional conditions like depression, panic attacks, anxiety or irritability, and sadness. It is also a condition that cannot be measured or determined through testing, and it is up to the person experiencing this condition to confirm its presence and severity. 


Every person inevitably experiences stress from time to time, often because of the busy, commitment-filled lives that humans are expected to maintain. Since stress is very different depending on the person, a universal way to manage stress is to create balance and give oneself a mental break from the chaos of life. 


Life is a roller coaster filled with uncertainty, making stress management techniques even more critical. Regardless of whether you are experiencing stress or anxiety, it is always important to talk with a trusted individual about how you are feeling, seeking advice on how to cope with current feelings. Talking to a doctor about stress is necessary if you feel consumed by the feelings, for it can lead to thoughts about more dangerous long-term behavior with serious repercussions. 


While both stress and anxiety are conditions that are a result of the intense obligations and events that we are expected to manage, they should not be confused as the same. For many high school students, experiencing stress is normal due to the heavy workload, social interactions, uncertainty about the future, and responsibilities. Anxiety, on the other hand, is the result of a cognitive reaction to a fear of the unknown and the additional stresses of events in the present moment. Thankfully, there are many techniques that can be utilized to manage the stress and anxiety in our lives.