What’s The Difference Between Stress & Anxiety? 9 Ways To Distinguish Between The Two

Ad failed to load

Both stress and anxiety can impact our day-to-day lives, but sometimes telling the difference between anxiety and stress is difficult. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes stress as a “feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down” caused by minor or major situations. After traumatic events, some people can develop Acute Stress Disorder, which is a period (up to one month) where the person experiences intensive stress symptoms — which are similar to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms— before returning to a better mental health state. Stress, though frustrating and hard to cope with at times, is a completely normal emotional response to life’s most difficult and minor situations.

Anxiety, however, is a serious mental health issue that goes beyond feeling stressed, and is a diagnosable disorder in and of itself. APA explains that “people with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.” Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million Americans over the age of eighteen. Moreover, a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine estimated one in thirteen people suffer from an anxiety disorder worldwide. Though anxiety and stress may have similar symptoms, it is important to understand they are not the same thing. Here are nine ways to distinguish between stress and anxiety.

Ad failed to load

1Your anxiety is chronic


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can only be diagnosed after a patient experiences at least six chronological months of severe worry, tension, and other accompanying anxiety symptoms. While feeling stressed out during big events or life changes is completely normal, it may be anxiety if your worry feels constant and never-ending.

2Anxiety can be a reaction to stress


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) explains on their website, "The difference between [anxiety and stress] is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress." Basically, anxiety disorders can be developed due to high amounts of stress. So, if you still feel worried once a stressful situation has passed, it's most likely anxiety.

3With anxiety, you may experience co-occuring physical disorders


Both stress and anxiety can be detrimental to your physical health: some of the symptoms include restlessness, irregular or rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, stomachaches, fatigue and more. However, studies have shown people with anxiety often experience a whole host of co-occuring chronic physical illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, and even respiratory diseases. There's no questioning that stress takes a toll on your body, but you may have anxiety if your physical symptoms become diagnosable physical disorders.

Ad failed to load

4You don't necessarily need a "reason" to be anxious


Stress can be caused by a number of stressful situations, including a rocky relationship, taking an important test, or a competition. On the other hand, people with anxiety don't need a "reason" to be anxious. Sure, everyone with an anxiety disorder has their own individual triggers, but the feelings of panic or dread don't necessarily need to stem from one situation in particular. If you are experiencing the symptoms of stress without a obvious cause, you may have an anxiety disorder.

5If you have anxiety, your feelings of fear or dread may be more intense


Anxiety disorders are typically accompanied by phobias (like social phobias, which are common), irrational fears, and irrational thoughts. Stress may cause your thinking to be a little cloudy, but anxiety is characterized overwhelming fear that you can't control. So, if you notice a pattern of negative or drastic fearful thinking, it's more likely you have anxiety than just stress.

6Stress is a response to a situation, while anxiety is a state of being


Like mentioned earlier, anxiety disorders are typically a chronic, lifelong struggle. Though you can treat anxiety disorders with medication and therapy, they always have the potential to impact your life. If your stress comes and goes pretty easily without largely impacting your life, you probably just have a pretty normal stress response to life events.

Ad failed to load

7You have panic attacks


Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder defined by recurring episodes of panic attacks — which is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as "sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking; and feeling of impending doom." If you frequently experience panic attacks when in stressful situations, that is a tell-tale sign that your stress is actually an anxiety disorder.

8If you have another mental illness, you probably have anxiety — not stress


Like majority of mental illnesses, anxiety disorders often have co-occuring mental health issues. Anxiety has been known to co-occur with eating disorders, depression and mood disorders, substance abuse issues, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), adult ADHD, and more. If you're experience other mental health issues, it's a safe bet to assume you're experiencing anxiety, not just your average stress.

9Anxiety is debilitating


Stress and anxiety can both negatively impact your quality of life, but anxiety can be completely debilitating to the people who live with it. When you're stressed out, you may still be able to complete the task at hand or finish your day. However, if you live with anxiety, little tasks or barriers could feel so monumental that it keeps you from carrying on and coping.

Understanding the differences between anxiety and stress can help you better treat the symptoms you are experiencing. While stress will pass, determining if you have possibly have an anxiety disorder sooner rather than later could make all the difference for your mental health.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

This Timeline Of Justin Theroux & Jennifer Aniston's Relationship Will Break Your Heart All Over Again

Just one day after Valentine's Day, actors Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their breakup after seven years together. The celebrity couple, who were married for two-and-half years, separated quietly at the end of last year. This week, th…
By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

A Study Suggests Drinking Soda Can Affect Your Fertility — But Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

An awful lot of things can affect fecundability — that is, the probability of conceiving within a single menstrual cycle — but can soda really decrease your chances of getting pregnant? A new study suggests that it might, although it turns out that t…
By Lucia Peters

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Money Actually CAN Buy Happiness — And Science Figured Out Exactly How Much It Costs

You’ve probably heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Personally, I’d be more than willing to test out that hypothesis myself, but researchers at Purdue University beat me to it. Researchers found that there is an actual amount of money it ta…
By Katie Mitchell

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

These 10 Drugstore Red Lipsticks Are Under $10 & Actually *Amazing*

I adore makeup. There are few things I like more than getting myself fancied up in the mornings. It's a little ritual I get to do every day that makes me feel prettier and more put together. When my makeup is on, I'm ready to face the world — pun int…
via Romper

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper