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How to Tell the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

By Sara Butler

Stress is a part of life there’s no getting around. Family responsibilities, bills, work and many other things can stack up and make you feel as if you’re drowning. Sometimes you may feel beyond stressed and wonder if you’ve veered into anxiety territory – and that’s normal. So, how can you tell the difference between stress and anxiety? Here are some ways you may be able to tell.

Physical Symptoms

Unfortunately, many of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are shared. Either can:

  • Speed up your heart rate
  • Trigger an episode of rapid breathing.
  • Create muscle tension

The physical symptoms branch off from one another when anxiety turns into a panic attack, causing more severe symptoms such as headaches, chills, chest pain and hot flashes.


The causes of stress and the causes of anxiety are different from each other. Sure, some of the causes can overlap, but the emotions that cause stress and the emotions that cause anxiety come from different places. When it comes to stress, it stems from worry, but when you’re talking about anxiety you’re not as aware of what you’re anxious about as it’s happening and your reaction to your feelings becomes the bigger issue. Basically, you become anxious about being anxious.

The Root of Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety also differs from stress become it has its root in fear. You may have phobias of certain events or social situations, and you can become panicked when you’re put in those situations. So, people who suffer from anxiety will avoid situations or events that make them fearful, and that can make the feelings surrounding the event or situation worse.

Stress, on the other hand, comes from external situations, not internal feelings. You’re aware of what you’re dealing with and you can deal with your stressors effectively by facing them one by one. The things causing you stress in your life that you are able to deal with get dealt with.

Remember, while the same feelings may stem from stress and anxiety, they are not concepts that can be used interchangeably. Stress can feel overwhelming, but the main difference is that stress doesn’t make you feel ultimately helpless in the situation. If you think you may be struggling with anxiety and it’s impacting your life, you should talk to a medical professional as soon as you can in order to help you cope. If you’re feeling stressed just remember – tackle the problems you can and it will go away!

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