Stress vs. Anxiety: What’s the Difference?

Stress and anxiety might feel very similar, but there are actually key differences between these two emotions. But don’t stress — we can tell you what they are!

4 mins read

Looming deadlines, upcoming presentations, and longer hours are work are just a few examples of things that can be super overwhelming. These types of stimuli are sure to make you feel stressed and anxious.

Stress and anxiety are two words that are often used interchangeably. And while they both make you feel less-than-good, there are some key differences between the two that are important to understand.

So let’s take the stress and anxiety out of stress and anxiety, answering once and for all: what’s the difference?

What is Stress?

Stress is a normal reaction that the body has when sudden changes occur. It results in a number of emotional, physical, and intellectual responses.

The human body was designed to experience and react to stress. You’ve probably heard of the fight or flight response, but this is also known as the stress response. When you’re confronted with a piece of stimuli that the brain perceives as challenging, you’ll enter this response.

During the stress response, the autonomic nervous system will increase heart rate and blood pressure, enhance cognition, and slow down the immune system. This is in preparation for you to flee or fight a given danger.

However, stress is only a temporary feeling that is caused by an external factor. This factor might be short-term, like a work deadline or an argument with a friend. However, it can also be long-term, such as dealing with a chronic illness or consistent discrimination.

Symptoms of Stress

The physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Chest pain or increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • Body aches, headaches, or dizziness
  • Digestive issues
  • Weak immune system
  • Muscle tension, teeth grinding, or jaw clenching

You may also experience mental symptoms related to stress, especially if you experience  stressors often:

  • Irritability or swings in mood
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble focusing

What is Anxiety?

In contrast to stress, anxiety is a persistent, excessive worry that doesn’t go away even when there is no stressor apparent. The set of symptoms that people with anxiety experience are nearly identical to those who experience stress, except there is no external stimuli that seems to be causing it.

This is because anxiety is not caused by just one thing, but rather a combination of different factors that are often uncontrollable. Things like family history, individual personality, ongoing stressors, and co-occurring mental health conditions can all cause someone to feel excessive anxiety.

In short, stress is the response to something that has already occurred, while anxiety is the anticipation of a future concern that has yet to happen. It’s based on avoidance behavior rather than confrontational behavior.

Anxiety that is persistent for at least six months and interferes with normal functioning is considered an anxiety disorder. These are among the most common mental disorders in the general population and are believed to affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Your body’s response to anxiety is extremely similar to stress, so you’ll notice that the symptoms are alike in some regards:

  • Feeling restless, on-edge, or nervous
  • Having trouble focusing
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty controlling emotions, especially feelings of worry
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Experiencing these symptoms every now and then is normal, but if you feel a large quantity of these symptoms over a persistent period of time, you may have an anxiety disorder. It never hurts to speak with a physician or a mental health professional if you have any concerns!

Effects of Stress and Anxiety

Both stress and anxiety can lead to direct effects on your mind and body. Chest pains, fatigue, body aches, and upset stomachs might all occur if these are left untreated. Similarly, these can have adverse effects on your mood, possibly leading to decreased motivation or depression.

But they can also have effects on your behavior. If stress and anxiety become persistent, you may try to alleviate them through unfavorable means. These might include overeating, angry outbursts, substance misuse, social isolation, or less frequent physical activity.

With all of this mind, it’s essential to try to alleviate these feelings when they start to occur.

Alleviating Stress and Anxiety

If there’s one good thing about stress and anxiety, it’s that treatment techniques are highly successful. You might even be able to alleviate some of their symptoms right from home! Let’s take a look at how you might be able to stomp out stress.

Relaxation Techniques

When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, the physiological response of increased heart rate or muscle tension are what can cause you to feel excessively uncomfortable. The first order of business is to try to bring your body back to its normal equilibrium.

Deep breathing exercises are great for reducing your heart rate and restoring your peace of mind. Find a comfy chair and close your eyes, taking in a deep breath through your nose for about ten seconds. Hold this breath for a few moments, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for another ten seconds.

This can help balance your breathing and check your blood pressure in turn. Not only can this make you feel a lot better, but it can prevent cardiovascular issues from developing down the road. You can enhance breathing techniques if you couple them with yoga, meditation, or other stress-relieving exercises.


When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, an increase in heart rate can be unhealthy. But if you maintain an increased heart rate while engaging in physical activity, you can actually harness your stress into something great. Not to mention, exercising diverts your focus away from whatever is causing you anxiety.

While high intensity cardio is great, something as simple as a walk around the block can be enough to bring some relief. Moving your body decreases muscle stiffness and lowers the body’s contribution to feeling anxious, which can soothe tension and make you feel instantly better. 

Unwind Before Bed

Setting a relaxing nightly routine before you go to bed is great, as sleep is your body’s natural reset button. If you can go to bed stress and anxiety-free, you might wake up feeling just as great.

Consider writing in a journal before bed. This can let you visually see your stressors firsthand. Not only can this help blow some steam, but it can put things into perspective to see if they’re really worth stressing over.

You can also practice self-care techniques to make your body feel physically relaxed and help counter everyday stress. Try doing face masks with a loved one, watching a funny Netflix series, take a CBD gummy, or taking a nice warm bath. This can let you let loose before hitting the hay, ensuring that you wake up feeling extra refreshed.

Consider Therapy

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and treatment, but the truth is that seeking help for your mental wellbeing is commendable, brave, and nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel like your stress and anxiety is getting the best of you, professional treatment might be right.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a popular method of psychotherapy that is often used to treat anxiety disorders. It teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-inducing situations.

Therapy can be useful even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. Sometimes being able to gain insight from an outside perspective about your daily life is a great way to relieve stress and strengthen your response to certain stimuli.

In Conclusion

Stress and anxiety are similar, and that’s probably why so many people use them interchangeable. The main difference is that stress is caused by an external stimuli (stressor), and it’s your body’s response to it. Anxiety, by contrast, is in anticipation of an event that has yet to happen. It’s also usually chronic, whereas stress is temporary.

Both stress and anxiety can have harmful effects if left untreated, such as depressive symptoms, substance misuse, heart problems, or issues focusing. They can also lead to overeating or social withdrawal.

Luckily, alleviating them can be easy and effective! Try using relaxation techniques, exercising, or self-care methods to reduce the harmful effects that stress and anxiety can bring. On top of that, there’s no shame in seeking professional assistance to get you back on track.

The main thing to remember about stress is not to stress! Both of these emotions are extremely common, so there’s no need to worry any longer.

If your stress and anxiety are getting the best of you, you might consider a helping hand. Smile’s CBD oils and gummies can help bring relief to both, working directly with your endocannabinoid system for holistic benefits that soothe and calm you.


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