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Stress and Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

written by Skye Kalil Written by Skye Kalil
Skye Kalil

Skye Kalil

Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.

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reviewed by Michelle Turk Reviewed by Michelle Turk
Michelle Turk

Michelle Turk

Michelle Turk received her Masters in Counseling from California State University, Fresno and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Michelle has 7 years of experience working with a wide variety of mild to moderate mental health conditions. Michelle focuses on providing clients with an empathetic and non-judgmental environment to assist them in achieving their personal goals.

October 7, 2021 Read Time - 7 minutes

What Is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

It is ubiquitous for people to experience stress and anxiety, whether it be an issue at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. Both are emotional responses, but an external trigger usually causes stress. The difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation, while anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that do not go away even if there is no stressor, and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

StressAnxiety 
Symptoms – Headaches or dizziness
– Muscle tension or pain
– Stomach problems
– Chest pain or a faster heartbeat
– Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
– Sense of impending danger or panic
– Increased heart rate
– Breathing rapidly 
– Sweating
– Trembling
– Feeling weak or tired
– Trouble concentratingIrritability 
– Sleep Disturbances (​​difficulty falling or staying asleep or unsatisfying sleep)
Causes Stress-inducing situations and specific external causes.Not always a particular situation or external trigger.
Treatment Physical activity, a nutritious and varied diet, good sleep hygiene, therapy.Therapy and anti-anxiety medication. 
Commonality Everyone experiences stress from time to time at some point in their life. 31% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes.
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What Are the Signs of Stress and Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety can have very similar signs and symptoms. A critical distinction between the two is how long the symptoms last. If you cannot sleep the night before you have a big presentation at work, that makes sense, and is most likely just stress. If you have not been able to sleep for weeks, and you are not sure why, that is most likely anxiety, and could be an indication of something bigger, and could be a sign of an anxiety disorder

The difference is the cause of the stressor, which in terms of stress is a definable situation, and with anxiety, it is constant if there is a stressor present or not. Anxiety is persistent, while stress is temporary. 

Stress Symptoms

According to Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of stress include the following:

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Trouble having sex
  • Weak immune system

Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:

  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness

Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviors, including:

  • Drinking alcohol too much or too often
  • Gambling
  • Overeating or developing an eating disorder
  • Participating compulsively in sex, shopping, or internet browsing
  • Smoking
  • Using drugs

Related: Can Anxiety Cause Insomnia Problems?


Anxiety Symptoms

According to Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of an anxiety disorder include the following:

Physical symptoms:

  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath

Mental symptoms:

  • Feeling panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Nightmares
  • Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to be still and calm
  • Ritualistic behaviors, such as washing hands repeatedly
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping

Stress Causes

Stress is caused by external factors such as a deadline at work or a fight with a loved one. The cause of stress can be easily pinpointed. It is typically short-term; however, it can be more long-term, such as stress by not being able to pay bills. But either way, the cause is clear and can be easily identified. 

Anxiety Causes

Anxiety disorders typically have no identifiable cause but can have triggers/stressors that lead to increased symptoms. Persistent worry and fear constantly follow people who are experiencing anxiety. There is an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness with no external factor that can be identified. 

How to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Symptoms of both stress and anxiety can be relieved in similar ways, in terms of coping mechanisms. Stress will typically fade as the external stressor decreases, but anxiety may take long-term work, and is best treated with therapy and medication. 

If you are still experiencing symptoms every day that are interfering with your ability to function normally, you may have an anxiety disorder. Consider talking to a mental health professional or primary care physician. These professionals can help you go over what you are feeling. A therapist can help you with coping tools, a psychiatrist can help determine if you have an anxiety disorder, and a primary care physician can prescribe medication. 

Stress Treatment

Stress can feel overwhelming at times, but is treatable. Some of the best treatment for stress is: 

  • Regular physical activity
  • A nutritious and varied diet
  • Good sleep and hygiene
  • Stop using tobacco and nicotine products
  • Study and practice relaxation techniques like meditation 
  • Reduce triggers of stress
  • Set realistic goals and expectations
  • Therapy

Related: How to Relieve Stress


Anxiety Treatment

The best treatment for an anxiety disorder is a mix of either therapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

  • Therapy for Anxiety: Therapy can be very beneficial for anxiety. The most common kind of therapy used to treat anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Some other commonly used forms of therapy are exposure therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy.
  • Medication for Anxiety: Medication can be another very helpful treatment for anxiety. The most common medications used to treat anxiety are antidepressants like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and beta-blockers like Buspirone. 

Read More: Is Counseling Good for Anxiety?


Therapy for Stress

Therapy for stress will typically be short-term and focused on whatever aspect of your life is giving you stress. Stress can stem from a particular trigger/life event, so finding a therapist who specializes in that area will be vital to having a good experience in therapy. For example: 

  • If you are feeling stressed about work, the best fit may be a therapist who focuses on career issues/development. 
  • If you are experiencing stress about relationships, a marriage and family therapist may be the best fit. 
  • If you are pregnant and stressed about everything related to delivering and caring for a child, a prenatal therapist can be very helpful. 

Typically, stress will go away once the issue that is causing stress has been resolved. If you are still feeling stressed after the resolution of a  stressor, you may be experiencing anxiety. 

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Therapy for Anxiety

Therapy for anxiety can be more long-term and will focus on a more holistic approach. Typically, people have anxiety for extended periods of time that can start as early as childhood. There is no cure for anxiety, but speaking with a therapist can help you work through the anxious feelings you are having, develop healthy coping skills to manage symptoms, and could help you get to the root cause of where the anxiety is stemming from. 

With PlushCare, we offer online therapists who specialize in anxiety treatment. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions, and PlushCare has licensed therapists qualified to treat patients experiencing anxiety through online sessions.

Click here to book an appointment with an online therapist at PlushCare.

PlushCare not only connects you with therapists, but once you sign up with PlushCare you are connected to our extensive network of doctors. While therapists cannot prescribe anti-anxiety medication, licensed doctors can if determined to be medically necessary. 

If you and your therapist agree that starting anti-anxiety medication could be beneficial, you can speak with a PlushCare doctor who can write you a prescription for anti-anxiety medication online if they determine that it is needed after a medical consultation. After writing the prescription, they can electronically send it to your local pharmacy.

Click here to make an appointment with a PlushCare online doctor. 

Please Note: PlushCare does not have online psychiatrists at this time. That said, our primary care physicians are able to prescribe mental health medications such as antidepressants, and if necessary can provide you with a referral to a psychiatrist.


Read More About Stress and Anxiety


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Psychological Association. What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? Accessed October 5, 2021 at https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/anxiety-difference# 

Mayo Clinic. Anxiety disorders – Symptoms and causes. Accessed October 5, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. Accessed October 5, 2021 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping with Stress. Accessed October 5, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html 

Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Stress.  Accessed October 5, 2021 at https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/additional-disorders/stress

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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