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Are you experiencing stress or anxiety? There is a fine line between the two, and most of us have experienced both at some point in our lives. Both stress and anxiety are emotional responses, however, there are some key differences between what causes each and, importantly, what should be done to manage each of them. In this blog article, we uncover these key differences to help you determine whether you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, and point you in the right direction to get help if you need it.

Is it stress or anxiety?

Stress and anxiety are both emotional responses, and both are very common. However, one of the key differences between the two is that stress is generally caused by an external trigger, whilst anxiety is often an ongoing, persistent emotional response without an apparent trigger.

Stress can be caused by a great many things, from being triggered by a deadline at work, to fighting with someone we love, battling health concerns, struggling at work, or having to manage a household and get the kids to school on time. Reactions to stress can vary just as greatly as its causes. Some of the most typical reactions include both physical and mental symptoms such as a rise in heart rate, irritability or anger, fatigue, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain, digestive issues, upset stomach, skin rashes, and more. Most of these symptoms are short-lived and abate as the stress eases. As unpleasant as they can be, they are often not life threatening – although when combined with other health concerns, they certainly can be!

Anxiety, although it can feel like stress, is quite a different thing. Anxiety is defined by a persistent and lasting feeling of worry or dread. It can be present even when there is no external trigger to link it to, and yet, its symptoms can be very similar to those of stress: increased heart rate, a short temper, trouble concentrating and sleeping, as well as other physical symptoms. Whilst fear and stress are natural life-preserving reactions that humans have experienced for millennia, persistent feelings of worry or dread, and the tell-tale panic attacks that some of us experience, are not a healthy part of daily life. If you experience anxiety, you are not alone! In fact, it is estimated that one in seven Australians are currently experiencing anxiety and 14% have experienced anxiety in the last 12 months. That equates to more than 2.7 million people!

In short: Stress is generally a temporary experience, whereas anxiety is a sustained emotional state that is present even without external triggers. 

If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a negative emotional or physical reaction (feeling worried or stressed) even when there is no apparent reason for it?
  • Do I find myself feeling ongoing and persistent dread or worry that I can’t explain?
  • Do I experience panic attacks?
  • Is regular and persistent worry making it hard for me to function in normal ways (such as getting enough sleep, being able to concentrate, having happy and healthy relationships, having an even temper)?
  • Do I feel afraid for no real reason?
  • Do I suffer from nightmares regularly?
  • Do I experience my heart beating fast for no apparent reason?

If you answered yes to a few or more of these questions, you might be experiencing anxiety, rather than stress. There are also many other telling signs of anxiety. However, for a more thorough self-diagnosis, you can take the Stress Test and Anxiety Test on our website. Please be aware that these are self-assessments only and are not designed to take the place of a diagnosis from a mental health professional. For a professional diagnosis, get in touch with us. And for any immediate concerns for your own safety, please get contact Lifeline, who over 24/7 crisis support, on 13 11 14.

Are there different types of anxiety?

Anxiety can present itself in many different ways, and these incarnations are often called ‘anxiety disorders’. Some of the anxiety disorders you may be familiar with include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Phobias (such as fear of flying, fear of spiders, etc.)
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

These different types of anxiety disorders require different approaches to treatment, and treatment should be sought from a qualified and experienced mental health practitioner.

Should I seek treatment for stress or anxiety?

The short answer is: YES!

Both stress and anxiety can benefit from treatment, whether mild or severe. Speaking to a mental health professional can be extremely beneficial, whether you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, or a more specific anxiety disorder. Be sure to seek help from a qualified professional counsellor or psychologist, and ensure that you are comfortable with their level of expertise in treating stress and anxiety. An unqualified or inexperienced therapist can do more harm than good, especially when it comes to dealing with anxiety!

When should I seek treatment for stress or anxiety?

Deciding to seek help in managing your stress or anxiety is an intensely personal thing, and only you can determine when it’s the right time. However, there is no WRONG time to ask for help! Whether you are experiencing mild, moderate, or severe symptoms, speaking with a therapist can have an instant impact on your life and, more importantly, a lasting impact on the way you manage stress or anxiety for the rest of your life.

If you’re undecided about whether it’s time to seek some help, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I comfortable with the levels of stress or anxiety I’m currently experiencing?
  • Would I be happy for my current symptoms (or lack of) to continue into the future?
  • Is my stress or anxiety making it difficult for me to succeed, feel happy, or function?
  • Have my symptoms gotten worse recently?
  • Would I like to see an improvement in my symptoms and levels of stress or anxiety?

The chances are, by asking yourself these simple questions, you will be able to determine whether or not it’s time to get some help. However, if you’re still not sure or would like some help in deciding what’s the best course of action, get in touch with us today.

Here at Integrated Health Specialists, we are qualified and experienced in helping those suffering from stress or anxiety to overcome them, develop lifelong strategies for managing them, and in changing their lives for the better. We are experts in a range of treatment types, including:

Give us a call today, or feel free to browse our website for more information about your symptoms and our treatment options.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen