Stress and Anxiety - What’s the difference?

Stress and Anxiety - What’s the difference?

A Mind UK survey revealed 18 per cent of people had depression while 26 per cent developed anxiety as a result of poor work-life balance.

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, we got in touch with Anxiety UK who revealed that ‘contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between stress and anxiety’. Knowing the difference can help you, your friends and your family more effectively understand and manage them. This will ultimately support you to lead a happier, healthier life.

What is stress?

Feeling stressed is typically a reaction to a known cause which is putting ‘pressure on our mind and body’. This then releases adrenaline ‘which causes a raft of physical symptoms’.

What is anxiety?

‘With anxiety, fear overcomes all emotions, accompanied by worry and apprehension’. Unlike stress, it’s a reaction to an unidentifiable trigger. As a result, you may feel that the situation is uncontrollable or unavoidable. Being unable to rationalise your feelings can lead to further distress.

Different symptoms and causes

It’s important to recognise the different symptoms and causes of stress and anxiety so that you can manage them.  

You should also bear in mind that these are not complete lists. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another’. Different people react to situations in different ways.  


If you’re stressed…

If you’re feeling anxious…


  • Overeating or overweight
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol
  • Increased cigarette smoking
  • Other substance abuse
  • Greater consumption of coffee
  • Indecisiveness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Unable to finish jobs
  • Lack of interest in anything
  • Easily irritated
  • Increased or supressed feelings of anger
  • Amplified emotion and increased crying
  • Feeling lack of control
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness or exhaustion
  • Reduced libido
  • Nail biting
  • Increased heart rate, palpitations or tight chest
  • Tense muscles
  • Rapid breathing, hyperventilation or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling sick or nauseous
  • Increased sweating
  • Needing the toilet more often
  • Headaches, migraines or feeling dizzy
  • Dry mouth
  • Hot flushes
  • Shaking, wobbly legs or tingling in your hands and feet
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling detached from your environment and others
  • On edge and alert
  • Feeling like you are unwell or might die
  • Thinking that people are observing you
  • Wanting to run away and escape situations


Physical or mental stress can be caused by a whole variety of external factors, such as:

  • Work: Pressure from deadlines, work overload or overtime, loss or change of job
  • Financial strains: Mortgages, bills, debt, additional expenses
  • Relationships: Problems, break ups, divorce
  • Health: Health changes, serious illnesses, death
  • Big life events: Children, moving house, getting married 
  • Other: Theft, violence, accidents, unemployment, exams

According to Anxiety UK, ‘stress is caused by an existing stress-causing factor or stressor. Anxiety is stress that continues after that stressor is gone.’ Anxiety may develop in a number of different ways, including:

  • Trauma or significant event
  • Past/childhood experiences
  • Medical causes
  • Environmental factors
  • Genetics
  • Side effect of medications/drugs
  • Physical/mental health
  • Personality/thinking styles

How to help reduce or manage stress

Unfortunately, experiencing stress is a normal part of life. But there are some practical changes which can help you reduce or manage your stress: 

  • Talking through what’s caused your stress with friends, family or colleagues can help give you perspective and reach a solution
  • Organise your days and manage your time wisely with lists. Make sure you prioritise deadlines and set realistic goals
  • Don’t over commit and try not to multitask – accepting that you can’t do everything will reduce the pressure you put on yourself
  • Remember to give yourself recognition and celebrate when you complete or solve a problem or task
  • Having a healthy work-life balance can reduce stress. Read our top 10 tips to achieving a work-life balance here

How to help reduce or manage anxiety

If you’re feeling anxious and suffering from any of these symptoms, try some of the following techniques to manage your anxiety:

  • Lifestyle changes such as increased exercise, reduced caffeine and alcohol intake, dietary changes
  • Learning ways to feel more relaxed, such as breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, meditation, and undertaking activities to unwind
  • Other methods include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapies or taking medication

It’s important to know the difference between anxiety and stress and how to deal with both. Recognising the symptoms in yourself, or somebody else, will help you start coming up with solutions.  

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