Stress is a feeling that we can’t cope with what we are faced with. We think that we don’t have the time, energy, and/or know how needed.
We are overwhelmed, and face feelings of frustration, failure, and panic. Our mind is always thinking of what we can do here and now to fix things.
The more we are stressed, the more mistakes we make, and the stress snowballs. If things get bad enough, we can reach a meltdown point, the fabled ‘nervous breakdown’.
If we just admit we are overwhelmed, and ask for help? Solutions for stress can often be found. We tell our manager we need help with a workplace presentation, or our partner that we need help with parenting, and new ways forward happen.
Anxiety is a feeling that life is out of control. We think that things are going to go terribly wrong, and start running worse case scenarios through our head, no matter how illogic others claim we are being.
We face feelings of fear, even terror, and can have panic attacks. Our mind is never present, but always lost in future scenarios.
Talking to friends or colleagues can often just make anxiety worse. The more they offer solutions, the more our mind races with new things that could go wrong. We feel ashamed we mentioned our anxiety in the first place, and might start avoiding people.
If we don’t deal with our anxiety it can roll into what’s known as 'anxiety disorder'. We are less and less able to keep up our daily lives, and all our decisions are driven by anxiety.
There are many parallels between stress and anxiety. They can, for example, both cause:
One key difference is that stress is a mental health issue, but anxiety can be a mental health disorder which needs treatment to improve.
Other differences between stress vs. anxiety are:
You know the cause vs. you don’t know the exact cause or it could be all sorts
You mind is focused on what to do now vs. your mind is obsessed on a possible future
You know there’s a solution vs. you doubt there is solution and think maybe all is lost
You feel overwhelmed vs. you feel helpless
You feel nervous vs. you feel afraid or even terrified
If you make changes the stress goes away vs. you try everything but still feel anxious.
Anxiety, and the out-of-control feelings it brings, is a stressful experience. So feeling stressed is actually a symptom of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
And stress can in some cases lead to anxiety. If your stress goes from worrying about what to do next, to overthinking a now terrible future? And your thoughts are increasingly illogic? Your stress is becoming anxiety. And if practical solutions deal with the original stressor but you still don’t feel better, this can be another key sign.
Getting a a support system in place as soon as we start to feel stressed or anxious means our stress and anxiety don't reach the point of breakdown or anxiety attacks.
With stress, talking to good friends or colleagues is sometimes enough to find solutions and feel better. But if you don’t have anyone to talk to, then consider a coach or counsellor.
Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to be rooted in childhood issues and usually requires proper intervention. A counsellor or psychotherapist can help you get to the root of the issue, and supports you in facing your anxieties and moving forward.