Anxiety vs. Stress: What’s The Difference?

Stress, anxiety, nervousness – these are all traits that we’ve experienced whether you’ve gone through a divorce or not. It’s important that you know the difference between the two. that way you know how to adapt. We’ve reached out to our friends at MONQ to provide you with some great tips since the signs of stress and anxiety can definitely overlap.

Both stress and anxiety exhibit similar physical symptoms such as:

  • increased heartbeat
  • muscle tension,
  • rapid or shallow breathing
  • feeling unfocused
  • drain your energy
  • cause you lose sleep

However, they have different triggers, cause different emotions and need be treated differently. Learning how to identify whether you’re dealing with stress or anxiety is key to knowing how to manage and cope with the experience.

What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

In short, stress is generally a temporary reaction to something specific causing frustration, anger or nervousness, while anxiety is a longer-term mental health issue involving consistent feelings of apprehension about what could happen – almost a sequence of irrational fears. (And if you now feel stressed about possibly having a “mental health issue”, know you’re not alone – anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting almost 20% of the adult population.)


One example to demonstrate how they’re different could involve your response to an upcoming job interview. Most people would agree that it’s normal to feel a little nervous leading up to the interview – you’re concerned about getting there on time, about what questions you may be asked and having the right answers to those questions to help you land the job. That’s stress.


However, having anxiety means having those ‘normal’ concerns but taking it even further – the thought process that not getting this job means you can’t pay your rent, so you’ll have to move to another home….and then the moving company will break something expensive so you’ll have to take them to small claims court, meaning you’ll need to find the time to actually go to court…..and so on.


Could that chain of events actually happen? Of course. Is it likely? Not really….but that’s what happens in the mind of someone dealing with an anxiety disorder.


Let’s dig a little deeper into these conditions.

What is Stress
When you’re under stress, you can identify what’s causing you to feel that way – a quickly approaching deadline at work, a disagreement with a friend or family member, wrestling with a big decision – and knowing what the stressor is can make it easier to formulate a plan on how to approach the situation and lay out some steps to make it seem more manageable.

Also, the feeling of being stressed out usually goes away once whatever what was causing it is resolved (the deadline passes, things get hashed out with your friend, the big decision gets made).

Symptoms of stress

Just as not everyone gets stressed out by the same things, not everyone has the same physical reaction to being stressed. In addition to an increased heartbeat, muscle tension and rapid or shallow breathing, symptoms of stress can include:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Upset stomach/nausea
  • Constipation
  • Getting colds/infection more frequently
  • Insomnia
  • Lowered sex drive/inability to engage in sex

Stress management

Every stressful situation is different, but there are some simple ways to deal with stress:

  • ​Take a couple deep breaths – this can help bring a high heartbeat back down to normal
  • Get some exercise – even a short walk can lead to the increase of feel-good endorphins
  • Watch what you eat – in times of stress, you may find yourself reaching for ‘comfort’ food or mindlessly munching away, taking in extra calories
  • Talk to someone – sometimes just sharing what’s concerning you can make you feel better
  • Tense and then relax your muscles – feeling your muscles tighten up and then purposefully relaxing them can release some tension you may not have even realized you were experiencing
  • Take a break – focusing on something else for a while can reinvigorate you and give you a chance to take a fresh look at whatever situation you’re dealing with
  • Put it on paper – write down your stressor on a piece of paper, then make a list of ways you can “fix” the problem
  • Remember that stress is temporary
Meditation is an incredible way to manage stress long term and short term.

While feeling stressed out is not fun for anyone, sometimes there is a silver lining – it can force you to problem solve or you may tap into some creativity you didn’t know you had. Just getting through a stressful situation can give you more confidence in your ability to handle the next one that comes your way.


While stress is a temporary state of unrest (and can actually lead to anxiety), an anxiety disorder manifests itself in more of an ongoing, constant state of needless worry or unease about the future or about a situation that shouldn’t be perceived as being threatening.


In other words, rather than being able to pinpoint one particular reason for feeling fearful (like you can do when you’re feeling stressed), you are generally worried about something that may happen down the road, even if there’s no indication of that ‘terrible’ situation actually happening – there’s an almost constant feeling of dread. To top it off, not being able to identify the actual cause of your anxiety can lead to even more distress, creating an endless cycle of worry.


Another factor differentiating anxiety from stress is that dealing with an anxiety disorder can interfere with your ability to handle everyday functions. As discussed above, stress and anxiety do share some of the same symptoms, but anxiety can be debilitating enough physically or mentally that a person can’t leave their house or ends up needing medical attention.

General anxiety disorder (GAD)

As mentioned above, many adults deal with anxiety (about 40 million in the U.S.) with GAD being the most common anxiety disorder. A diagnosis of GAD would be confirmed if three (or more) of the following symptoms are present most days over a six-month period:

  • ​Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going black
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)

Children only need to exhibit one of the symptoms over that time period to be diagnosed with GAD.

Panic attacks

Another defining characteristic of having an anxiety disorder versus being stressed is experiencing a panic attack. While this is another term that sometimes gets used somewhat loosely in our culture these days (as in, “I almost had a panic attack when I thought I lost my phone”), a panic attack is actually a specific instance of heightened fear or discomfort lasting 15 to 30 minutes.

Symptoms of a panic attackA person is classified as having a panic attack if they have an intense fear or discomfort while experiencing at least four of the following symptoms:

  • ·Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A choking feeling or a feeling of being smothered
  • Numbness
  • Either hot flashes or chills
  • A fear of dying
  • Feelings of unreality
  • A fear of going insane

How to deal with anxiety

Although managing stress can be approached in a more practical way, an anxiety disorder can require more intense measures, such as doctor-prescribed medication, counseling or professional psychological treatment. See your doctor if you think you may be suffering from some form of anxiety disorder or exhibit any of these tell-tale signs.

But, there are steps you can try in the meantime. Along with the methods of handling stress listed above, other ways to deal with anxiety are:
  • Try to use humor – while whatever situation you’re anxious about may not really be funny to you, taking a step back and injecting humor may help diffuse some of your anxiety
  • Remind yourself that much of what is worrying you is just in your head – while easier said than done, actively trying to keep your thoughts from spiraling into too many scary scenarios may help keep you more grounded and tuned into the present instead of worrying about the future
  • Take a minute to try to figure out what the real root of your anxiety is – if you can concentrate on dealing with the core of the issue, you might be able to prevent yourself from going down the path of worrying needlessly about things that aren’t a factor
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Hypnosis

At the end of the day, whether you’re dealing with stress or with anxiety, what’s most important is to know you’re not alone and to do what you can to stay healthy. Hopefully being able to recognize if you’re (just) feeling stressed or truly dealing with an anxiety disorder can put you on the right path to getting better.


About the author: MONQ provides Therapeutic Air® Portable Aromatherapy Diffusers that turns custom blends of essential oils and coconut-derived vegetable glycerin into water vapor and aromatherapy; while the term “vaporizer” is technically accurate, it can be slightly misleading. MONQ does not contain any of the ingredients commonly found in many of the devices labeled vaporizers, such as nicotine or artificial flavoring. This is why MONQ a portable aromatherapy diffuser rather than a “vaporizer.”