Am I Stressed or Anxious? How to Recognize the Difference and Cope

am i stressed or anxious

Most people tend to confuse stress with anxiety and vice versa. But the truth is, these two are not the same things, and in order to understand this better, it’s important to understand their distinctions.

Key Points:

Stress and anxiety can have similar symptoms, but there are several differences to be aware of.
Increasing you self-awareness and understanding your behavioral patterns can help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Understanding strategies for stress and anxiety allows proactive rather than reactive responses.

I am often asked, “What is the difference between stress and anxiety?” Symptoms can look very similar between the two, but there are several distinctions.

Stress is a common experience that occurs when the tasks at hand are perceived to be more than we can handle. Anxiety is more intense and occurs when stress is not acknowledged or appropriately managed.


Stress is triggered by external stimuli that can generally be identified. For example, if you are assigned a huge project that needs to be completed by tomorrow, or if you were recently fired and had overdue bills to pay, or perhaps you have to navigate your way through a global pandemic.

When demands appear to be too high, we tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Most of us juggle several roles throughout the day and sigh as our to-do lists lengthen right before our eyes. We tend to multitask and believe that we are helping ourselves when, in reality, only creating more stress.

Related: 5 Effective Steps To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed By Life

Symptoms of stress

  • Increases irritability
  • Disrupts sleep patterns
  • Decreases energy levels
  • Changes breath and heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Alters appetite or triggers cravings
  • Feel overwhelmed or a sense of urgency

Stress is not typically viewed as a pleasant experience, but the changes that take place in your body are, in fact, supposed to occur. The symptoms of stress are basically your body’s built-in activation system designed to warn or protect you.

Thankfully in this day in age, we are not constantly confronted by predators and need to run for our lives. Like the changes in our breath, temperature, or heart rate, the sensations that we feel are the same as those that our ancestors felt when confronted with danger.

Nowadays, we create or fabricate most of our stress. Thoughts and doubts generate the emotions that we generally categorize as negative or unpleasant.

Am I Stressed or Anxious? How to Recognize the Difference and Cope


Anxiety is an internal reaction that occurs when stress is not recognized and addressed. Unlike stress, anxiety tends to linger even after the concern has passed. Simply put, stress is like a cold, whereas anxiety is like allergies.

Both can have similar symptoms, but after you fight off a cold, you are symptom-free. Allergies, on the other hand, are something that needs to be consistently monitored. At times, they are quite manageable but can suddenly be triggered and be debilitating.

Symptoms of anxiety

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Repetitive or racing thoughts that are future-oriented or past-oriented
  • Avoidant or easily overwhelmed
  • Irritable or impatient
  • Inability to concentrate and be present
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Abdominal pain or appetite changes
  • Excessive worry or need to control
  • Sweating, breathing rapidly, increased heart rate

People will experience higher stress levels and are more prone to developing anxiety disorders if their basic needs (sleep, diet, and movement) are not prioritized and managed.

For example, it doesn’t make sense to expect your car to function if you are not maintaining it and filling it with gasoline; the same works for you. If you are not taking care of your basic needs, you will not function at a high level.

Related: Emotional Distress: 7 Signs You Are Feeling Mental Strain And What To Do

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Leah Marone LCSW

As a psychotherapist, a former anxiety-ridden Division I athlete, and a mental wellness consultant, Leah Marone strives to not only empower but educate others on how to prioritize and improve their mental health. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Texas in Austin. Prior to that, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology from Ball State University where she also played basketball. She has worked with major corporations, athletic teams, nonprofits, and podcasters all over the world. She currently writes for Psychology Today and has been a spotlight speaker at several conferences. Leah is a Midwesterner at heart, but currently lives outside of Charlotte, NC with her husband and two daughters.View Author posts

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