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Stress vs. Anxiety: Why You May Be Confusing Them & How To Treat Each


Life is peppered with moments of overwhelm. You wouldn’t be alone in trying to find a balance in your work life, relationships, and hobbies. In addition, being an adult requires a level of upkeep and responsibility most people can’t prepare for or don’t know is coming. 

When struggling with overwhelming feelings, most people want to know – is this stress, or is this anxiety? Understanding the difference is critical in identifying coping strategies that can lessen the load and help treat through therapy any hardships one may experience with their mental health.We all experience degrees of anxiety and stress throughout our lifetime. However, even without a formal diagnosis, you can organically point to a time in your life you have experienced one or the other. 

The confusing part is that both stress and anxiety have similar symptomatology. Irritability, digestive issues, insomnia, and fatigue cross over between mental stress and physical anxiety. 

Here’s the trick to identifying the difference between stress and anxiety: the way we manifest stress is external, while anxiety is internal.Stress is typically brought out by external stressors, such as a fight with a loved one, a work deadline, post-traumatic stress disorder, or experiencing a disruption to your life (losing a job or a loved one). However, it’s primarily motivated by “the checklist” we have running in our heads and the desire to get things done that seem particularly overwhelming. 

Mental stress may start from external factors (external stresses) but ultimately becomes an internal process with symptoms that make it hard to adjust to life. In fact, the DSM-5 marks this type of external stress that persists over a period of three months as Adjustment Disorder. 

This diagnosis can be used to help guide treatment and identify ways to cope with the lasting effects of psychological stress. Whether you experience symptoms of PTSD, high-stress levels from traumatic events, or health problems, the goal is for people to develop long-term stress management techniques.Anxiety manifests internally. This means that even in the absence of an external stressor, individuals who suffer from anxiety are marked by persistent fear, chronic worry, and physical anxiety symptoms that endure for an extended period of time without ceasing. 

Anxiety can manifest as several different diagnoses, marked by panic symptoms (shortness of breath, chest tightness) or generalized anxiety (persistent fear and worry). Common forms of anxiety people experience are social anxiety, work anxiety, and panic disorder. Constant worry can cause anxiety, as well as prolonged exposure to stress.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that anxiety can’t develop and come to the surface more readily when confronted with external stressors (worry about a new job, fear of entering a new situation, or social anxiety). Still, the key differential for an anxiety diagnosis is the persistence and endurance of the anxiety symptoms long after the stress has ended. Figuring out the difference in your mental stress or anxiety means understanding both the factors that play into it and the different ways that we can cope. It is important to determine what causes you stress or causes you anxiety.Foundational coping skills, such as exercise, good sleep hygiene, and nutrition, all play a role in managing mild stress and anxiety. However, when we see our symptoms reaching a place where we can’t function, as usual, it’s time to seek professional help. 

It’s crucial to develop ways to cope with the effects of stress and/or anxiety. Whether you experience symptoms of social anxiety, need treatment for PTSD or other forms, need to develop a work-life balance or learn how to cope with stress – it is important to address.A licensed clinician can help you navigate the difference between your stress and anxiety. A licensed clinician can provide you with an appropriate diagnosis and tailor interventions to help you identify the best ways to cope with mental stress or physical anxiety. 

Therapy makes a critical difference in how we perceive our symptomatology and can lead to new conclusions on the best way to cope and the roots of our symptoms. Additionally, a combination of psychotherapy and medication can be used to help lessen and control our symptoms.

Remember, it’s normal to experience both stress and anxiety; the turning point for seeking help lies in how it affects our daily functioning. So if you are finding yourself bogged down in fear, worry, and physical symptoms, it’s time to reach out for help.

Are you ready to move forward and start therapy? Then contact Harmony Bay Wellness of New Jersey.

As shown above, we offer comprehensive therapy options to help with the challenges of coping with Mental Health.

To schedule a consultation today, call us at 855.765.6399.

Treatment with Harmony Bay

Harmony Bay is an outpatient behavioral health service that offers primary mental health treatment for a variety of mental health disorders. Our mission is to make mental health care convenient and affordable while providing an unmatched experience to our clients. contact us today by calling 855.765.6399.