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Is it Stress or Anxiety?

Do you know the difference between when you are feeling stressed or anxious? There’s definitely fine line between stress and anxiety. There have been many times where clients that I work with come in for their sessions, sharing with me that they are experiencing stress when in actuality they are experiencing anxiety, and vice versa. But how can we tell the difference between what we are experiencing, especially when the two emotions can present very similarly?

Both are anxiety and stress are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a deadline for work or a fight with a significant other, or long-term, such as chronic illness, being unable to work, or discrimination. People under stress experience both mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even when the stressor is gone. Anxiety leads to a nearly identical set of symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. Here is a graph that I created that can help you differentiate between the two.

Please keep in mind that this is by no means a diagnostic tool. If you are unsure if you are experiencing stress or anxiety, it is important that you consult a mental health provider or your physician. It is also important to note that certain medical conditions can present as mental health challenges as well. That is why it is always important to consult with your medical provider.

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