What's the Difference Between Stress & Anxiety?

Stress or Anxiety illustration of the mind

"While some level of stress can be motivating and adaptive, chronic or excessive stress can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health."

Difference Between Stress & Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are both emotional responses that carry many of the same symptoms–irritability, aggression, muscle tension, trouble sleeping, and even upset stomach. Stress and anxiety can also be addressed with many of the same coping mechanisms, from mindfulness techniques to medication

Despite their similarities, stress and anxiety are not the same, and knowing their differences, including their root causes, can help you manage them more effectively. 

Read on to find out how stress and anxiety differ, how they can influence each other, and how a non-prescription medication like Brillia can help both.

Understanding Stress: What Does it Feel Like?

Stress is a natural response to perceived threats or pressures, triggering the body's “fight or flight” response which prepares you to either stay and fight the perceived stressor or flee to safety. This stress response is accompanied by a flood of hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenalin.

Physiologically, stress can manifest in a variety of ways, including increased heart rate, muscle tension, GI upset, rapid breathing, and heightened alertness. Emotionally, stress can make you feel irritable or overwhelmed. While some level of stress can be motivating and adaptive, chronic or excessive stress can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health.

Defining Anxiety: How to Know When Anxiety Strikes

Anxiety is characterized by persistent worry or apprehension about future or past events or situations, even when there is no immediate threat. Unlike stress, which is typically tied to specific stressors, anxiety may arise seemingly out of nowhere and persist over time. Physical symptoms of anxiety can be similar to those related to stress, and may include racing thoughts, trembling, sweating, dizziness, or digestive issues. Emotionally, anxiety can lead to feelings of fear, dread, or panic.

Anxiety can be situational or it can also be related to a number of different disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic attacks, separation anxiety, selective mutism, social anxiety, and specific phobias.

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Can You be Anxious But Not Stressed?

While stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct experiences. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress is usually caused by an external trigger, like an argument with a colleague or upcoming deadline, while anxiety can occur without any known trigger.1 Freud remarked that people with anxiety may live in a state of “anxious expectation,” in which you experience a constant sense of nervousness and dread, almost like background noise that follows you around.2

Can One Turn into the Other?

Although stress and anxiety are separate phenomena, they can influence each other and sometimes overlap. Prolonged or severe stress may make a person more vulnerable to anxiety as they become more inwardly focused and prone to excessive rumination, and their body’s stress response system is chronically activated. Similarly, unresolved anxiety or worry may exacerbate stress levels, leading to a vicious cycle of heightened tension and apprehension.

How to Distinguish Between Stress & Anxiety

Because stress and anxiety symptoms are so similar, both physically and mentally, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other. But understanding how to tell them apart is crucial when developing appropriate management strategies. 

Some questions to ask when distinguishing stress from anxiety:

  • Is there a specific trigger causing your feelings of unease? As we mentioned above, the APA explains stress is typically caused by an external trigger, while anxiety can occur irrespective of any triggers.
  • Do you feel better after a perceived threat or danger is gone? Because stress is often the result of an external trigger, it tends to dissipate once the trigger is no longer there. This doesn’t mean that chronic stress is not a real issue. However, even chronic stress can be tied to an ongoing pressure, such as financial troubles or persistent relationship issues.
  • Do you have a family history of anxiety disorders? There is some evidence that anxiety is a heritable condition.3 If you have a family history of anxiety, you may be at risk.
  • Do you often feel a sense of impending doom? Though many symptoms between stress and anxiety are the same, one symptom specific to anxiety is a sense of impending doom or persistent dread, often not attached to a specific fear.

Common Causes & Management Techniques

Identifying common triggers for stress and anxiety empowers individuals to take proactive steps towards managing their mental health. 

What causes stress? 

  • Work or academic deadlines
  • Heavy workload (inside or outside the home)
  • Financial concerns
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Major life changes and transitions 
  • Chronic illness

What causes anxiety?

While lifestyle habits like poor diet, consuming excessive caffeine, and not getting enough sleep can’t cause anxiety, they can exacerbate symptoms. In addition to recognizing potential triggers for stress and root causes of anxiety, it’s essential to establish healthy lifestyle habits to effectively manage symptoms of both. 

At Brillia, we are strong proponents of a holistic approach to reducing stress and anxiety. While considering stress and anxiety medication and seeking therapy for your symptoms are both powerful steps you can take to feel better, upholding a healthy lifestyle is just as impactful. Our 5 Pillars outlines science-backed lifestyle changes proven to reduce stress, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness; they include following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness

If you need more support, medication is another option. Brillia is a non-prescription medication clinically proven to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Consisting of targeted antibodies to the S100B protein, a biomarker that impacts focus, mood, and learning, Brillia improves how well your brain cells communicate with each other so you can feel less distracted, more balanced, and more receptive to the lifestyle changes outlined in our 5 Pillars.4 Gentle and impactful, Brillia makes a powerful difference in reducing your symptoms and helping you respond better to stressors and triggers without altering blood chemistry or affecting any other systems in the body. There are two formulations available: Brillia for Children ages 5-18 and Brillia for Adults. Find out more about how the medication works.

By understanding the distinctions between stress and anxiety and implementing effective management strategies, you can feel more empowered and in charge of your emotions no matter what trigger or fear you’re facing. Explore more tips and resources for managing stress and anxiety at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/anxiety-difference, 2https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/subconscious-anxiety, 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573560/, 4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3821390/
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