Stress vs Anxiety: Understanding The Difference

Though similar, anxiety and stress are two very different psychological issues. People who are stressed sometimes try to compare themselves to people with anxiety, but anyone who has ever experienced chronic anxiety knows that the two will never be the same. In my practice as an online mental health counselor, I have worked with several people as they cope with both stress and anxiety. I’m dedicating this week’s blog to helping people understand the difference between these different psychological challenges.

Understanding The Difference: A Few Real-Life Examples

Approaching Big Deadlines

People with stress will experience a great deal of pressure as the deadline approaches. They may experience difficulty sleeping and find themselves unable to put their projects out of their minds until it is finished and the deadlines have passed. Once it’s over, however, they will be able to relax and focus on something else.

People with anxiety will also experience a great deal of pressure and stress as the deadline approaches, and may suffer the same types of symptoms as their stressed counterparts. The big difference is that once the deadline has passed, these people will still feel anxious.

Meeting New People

Some people may experience stress when they meet someone new for the first time, but typically only when the person they are meeting is of great influence, since in these instances it is especially important to make a good impression. In general, however, they don’t feel any stress leading up to or during introductions with new people.

People with anxiety often feel extremely anxious any time they meet someone new – and frequently even when interacting with people they already know. After the interaction is over, they typically replay everything they said in their minds, over-analyzing and criticizing their comments and behavior.

Understanding The Difference: Illustration In Action

The Mighty recently released an exceptional video that helps illustrate the difference between stress and anxiety:

As the video beautifully illustrates, the symptoms of stress and anxiety are often similar, but the underlying experiences are extremely different for people with stress versus people with anxiety.

Understanding The Difference: The Bottom Line

The difference between stress and anxiety boils down to one key factor: the source of the issue. Stress stems from external factors, such as deadlines, an increased workload, a huge decision, a big test, etc. Conversely, anxiety stems from internal factors. Common examples of these internal factors include feelings of inadequacy and fear. This fear does not have to be rational (and frequently isn’t). Instead, it is an intense fear of occasions that wouldn’t ordinarily be capable of inducing panic attacks, such as various social engagements or group activities. 

Coping With Stress And Anxiety

As the video points out in the end, stress can be incredibly hard, but it is not the same thing as having an anxiety disorder. I am certainly not trying to downplay the challenges that stress presents, but it is important to understand the distinction. Comparing stress with a chronic anxiety disorder can further feelings of isolation in individuals suffering from the mental disorder. If someone opens up to you about their anxiety, the best thing you can do is simply listen to them and offer emotional support.

Contact Me If You Are Interested In Pursuing Counseling

The decision to pursue therapy can be scary at first, but I can personally testify to the phenomenal benefits therapy offers. You don’t have to be “crazy” to benefit from therapy; simply allowing yourself to open up to someone who cares about you and is willing to help you find a solution can be incredibly helpful. If you would like more information about online counseling sessions and the benefits they offer, visit my website at I would be honored to speak with you.

Samantha M. Ruth, Transformational Psychologist
Online Therapy… Your Therapy, Your Way!
Call: 248-730-5544
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