While the terms “anxiety” and “stress” are often used interchangeably, it’s important to understand their subtle differences to reduce widespread misunderstanding and increase awareness of mental health disorders. By unraveling their unique characteristics, causes, and overall impacts on well-being, we can better understand how to approach these conditions in our everyday lives.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a multifaceted emotional response characterized by apprehension, fear, and worry. It transcends the normal scope of stress, often manifesting as a state of chronic unease. Unlike stress, anxiety can emerge without any apparent cause, lingering in the background of one’s thoughts and making it harder for them to get through the everyday activities of life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, experiencing occasional anxiety is a natural response to pressure, such as worrying about health, finances, or relationships. However, individuals grappling with an anxiety disorder often experience persistent anxiety that may exacerbate over time. This has the potential to disrupt routine activities, such as job responsibilities, academic pursuits, and interpersonal relationships.

Many different types of mental health disorders fall under the category of anxiety. These include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – experiencing persistent anxiety or dread
  • Panic Disorder – experiencing frequent and unexpected panic attacks
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – experiencing intense fear of being watched or judged by others
  • Phobia-related disorders – experiencing intense fear of a specific thing or situation

According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnoses, affecting more than 300 million people worldwide.

What is Stress?

Stress, on the other hand, is a natural response to external pressures or challenges. A motivating force, stress can push individuals to adapt to and overcome obstacles to their benefit. At the same time, stress can cause similar negative effects to anxiety, such as high blood pressure, loss of sleep, or body pain. The good news is stress is typically short-term, subsiding once the stressor is removed or managed effectively.

There are different types of stress, typically known as:

  • Acute Stress Disorder – occurs within the first month after experiencing a traumatic event, while not typically lasting longer than one month
  • Episodic Acute Stress – experiencing acute stress frequently
  • Chronic Stress – a prolonged and overwhelming state of stress, similar to various anxiety disorders

According to the American Institute of Stress, over half of Americans are experiencing stress on a daily basis. Given that stress and anxiety are some of the most common mental health conditions, people should understand their causes and how to seek help if experiencing them.

What Causes Anxiety and Stress?

There are many different causes of anxiety. These may be attributed to:

  • Biological factors, such as genetic predisposition, neurotransmitter imbalances, and brain chemistry
  • Environmental factors, such as traumatic experiences, childhood adversity, and chronic stressors
  • Psychological factors, such as personality traits, cognitive distortions, and behavioral patterns
  • Stress, on the other hand, is often caused by:
  • External stressors, such as work-related pressures, financial concerns, and relationship issues
  • Internal stressors, such as negative self-talk, and unrealistic expectations
  • Life events, such as major life changes, loss, and uncertainty about the future

As with any condition, it can be beneficial to try and identify where feelings of stress or anxiety might be coming from. This can help determine any next steps that may need to be taken and cultivate mental wellness.

Symptoms and Manifestations of Anxiety

There are many different ways that anxiety shows up in the body and mind. Cognitive symptoms may manifest as excessive worry, racing thoughts, or difficulty concentrating. Emotional symptoms of anxiety may relate more to restlessness, irritability, or feelings of dread. Anxiety can even manifest in physical ways, such as experiencing muscle tension, fatigue, or sleep disturbances.

Symptoms and Manifestations of Stress

Anxiety isn’t alone when it comes to wreaking havoc on our minds and bodies. There is even some overlap between symptoms of anxiety and stress. When experiencing stress, one can also suffer from racing thoughts, forgetfulness, or poor judgment. These might be the times when people around you start noticing you’re not quite yourself.

Stress can also manifest as mood swings, agitation, or feelings of overwhelm. Still, stress doesn’t stop there. It causes a slew of physical issues, from headaches, to digestive issues, to sleep disturbances, and more.

Anxiety vs Stress – Impact on Well-Being

With so many physical and mental manifestations of anxiety and stress, it’s no secret they each have a significant impact on a person’s overall well-being. Being aware of these impacts can help break down stigmas for people experiencing mental health conditions, as well as shed light on the importance of getting help for anxiety and stress-related issues.

Anxiety can cause a number of mental, physical, or behavioral challenges, including:

  • Increased risk for other mental health disorders
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weakened immune system
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Substance abuse

Similarly, stress can cause the following conditions that can impact a person’s mental and physical well-being:

  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Burnout
  • Difficulty coping with challenges
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Compromised immune system
  • Impaired decision making
  • Strained relationships
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns

Knowing the significant impacts both anxiety and stress can have on the overall well-being of a person, it’s important to seek help if or when these conditions arise.

How to Cope With Anxiety

While anxiety can seem overwhelming and debilitating, it’s important to remember that there are a variety of resources to help cope with this condition.


Therapy stands as a cornerstone in the comprehensive treatment of anxiety, offering invaluable and nonjudgmental support for individuals navigating the complex terrain of anxiety disorders. Through therapeutic interventions, patients gain a safe space to explore the roots of their anxiety, identifying triggers, and strategizing coping mechanisms to help their unique situation.


Medication can also play a pivotal role in treating a variety of anxiety disorders. Medications are prescribed by trained and licensed professionals, and may include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers.

Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments, such as ketamine-assisted therapy, deep TMS, neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and stellate ganglion blocks have the incredible ability to complement traditional anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy. Many patients who were hitting blocks in progress with traditional treatments alone have reported improved results when trying these alternative methods.

There are also several scientific findings that show the benefits of alternative therapies in the treatment of anxiety. Some of these studies include:

  • A PubMed systematic review determined the integration of multiple treatment modalities along with ketamine-assisted therapy can sustain noteworthy alleviation of anxiety. Simultaneously, these combined treatments can foster positive therapeutic relationships and enhance treatment participation for mental health patients.
  • Information derived from individual randomized controlled trials indicate that, when contrasted with the absence of treatment, neurofeedback treatment demonstrates a statistically significant improvement in symptoms for individuals diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Whatever treatments or supports a person is looking to integrate, it’s important to remember that there are many different options available to tailor to each unique individual, diagnosis, and situation.

How to Cope With Stress

Similar to anxiety, stress can be managed in a variety of ways. Simple lifestyle shifts such as integrating time management or organizational techniques can help alleviate feelings of overwhelm or distress. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep routine are also paramount to alleviating stress. Additionally, it can help to find relaxation techniques that work for you, such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or nature walks.

Reaching out to others and leaning on them for support in times of need can be a critical first step to feeling like your old self. Speaking with others may help you better identify underlying causes of stress and problem-solve ways to overcome these obstacles.

Additionally, the same supports that can help a person with anxiety can also be applicable to a person experiencing stress, depending on their unique situation. Traditional and alternative treatment methods can be combined to increase the likelihood of success when treating various stress-related conditions.

Breaking Down Stigmas About Anxiety and Stress

We’re finally starting to see the data and science behind how common anxiety and stress truly are. They each have a critical impact on our overall well-being, so it’s important to learn how to effectively manage them to improve our lives. Still, these topics remain taboo in much of the world today. That’s why we need to continue having conversations about mental health in order to break down stigmas and help people experiencing distress to get the help they need.

While anxiety and stress may share common symptoms and treatment approaches, understanding their differences can help foster a more empathetic and effective approach to managing and supporting these conditions. By recognizing the nuances between the two, we can pave the way for more targeted interventions, promoting mental well-being and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.

To find out more about how to treat anxiety with traditional or alternative methods, reach out to Plus by APN at 424-644-6486, or fill out our online contact form today. Together, we can support you and help you to live in freedom from anxiety disorders.


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