Stress vs Anxiety: what are the differences?

Get a free consultation

Health Assured team

15 April 2019

Stress and anxiety can seem like very similar issues. They’re certainly both negative and lead to tiredness, worry, distraction and irritability.

But there are some fundamental differences between stress and anxiety. And when you understand those differences, you’re better equipped to deal with both issues—and help anyone suffering around you, too.

What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress is a natural reaction to external triggers. It’s a response designed to energise you, to help you take action. Stress usually goes away once you solve the problem stressing you out.

Anxiety, however, is sustained. Anxiety has physical symptoms that stay with you, even after you tackle the underlying problems. It’s not always a direct response to something external—though stress is a common trigger.

Is anxiety a mental illness?

Severe anxiety is a mental illness that can develop into one or more of several anxiety disorders:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)—this is a chronic sense of worry about everyday life. Someone suffering from GAD may find it hard to concentrate, feel like crying all the time, or even experience physical symptoms like nausea.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder—we can all feel nervous when faced with a new experience. But social anxiety disorder magnifies that tenfold. People suffering this may isolate themselves out of fear, or experience panic attacks when thinking about social interaction.
  • Panic Disorder—repeated sudden feelings of terror and panic attacks. These cause physical symptoms like heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath.

What are some anxiety and stress symptoms?

Some common symptoms between both issues are:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Sweaty palms or feet
  • High resting heart rate
  • Difficulty relaxing and calming the mind
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in libido
  • Constant, encroaching worry
  • Muscle tension and aching
  • Digestive issues

Of course, any one of these in isolation could be a symptom of something else entirely. But if you’re experiencing high pressure at work or home, and begin to feel like some of these symptoms are kicking in, it might be time to visit your doctor.

Your doctor will ask questions about your work life and your home environment. This is purely to get a handle on what’s causing your stress, and how badly—remember, there’s a big difference between ‘signs’ and ‘symptoms’. Medically, a sign presents itself externally, and is visible to others—a symptom is something you feel, and you need to explain to your doctor.

A doctor can see a rash caused by stress, but can’t know about nausea unless you tell them. That’s the difference. So be certain to let them know everything.

As we can see, the difference between anxiety and stress isn’t always easy to spot. But if you feel worried, pressured or panicky even when your life is going well—that’s the time to seek help.


If you’d like to find out more information or depression or anxiety counselling on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on 0333 251 3208

Make your enquiry

Please complete the form below and we'll be in touch to answer your enquiry

Book a place on this workshop

Get a free consultation

Please complete the form and we'll be in touch to schedule your free consultation

An error occurred

We appologise but an error has occurred submitting your form. Please try again.

Mindful Employer
Stonewall Diversity Champion
Disability Confident Employer
bacp Accredited Service
International EAP Association
National Suicide Prevention Alliance
The Workplace Wellbeing Charter
Mental Health at Work
Cyber Essentials Plus
Investors in People Silver 2022
Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse
The Prince's Responsible Business Network
SEQOHS Accredited
helplines partnership