Stress and Anxiety, What is the Difference?

A lot of times stress and anxiety are compared to each other and too often the two are also confused with one another.

There is a difference, however, between the two.

If you haven't already I suggest that you read this article on anxiety to get more info and/or this article to learn more on stress and anxiety.

Because it can be difficult to see the difference, it can be very difficult to explain the difference. Like if an anxiety patient is asked by her/his doctor if the (s)he thinks the stomach cramp that was experienced came from anxiety or from stress: The symptom can be a sign of both stress and anxiety, so telling a difference can be very hard.

I try to explain the difference according to three basic dimensions where you can tell a difference; time, change and knowledge of stressor


The simplest way to recognize the difference between stress and anxiety is by looking at the time span we are dealing with. Stress is usually built up over longer time.

Here I am talking about the bad stress (distress) and not the lifesaving, good stress (eustress). Ask yourself for how long you have been able to see the signs of stress or signs of anxiety, as a general rule I would say that if the stress has been there for a year or more, there is a good chance that you have stress.

Remember that stress can be a result of anxiety... and also remember that a simple fear can be stressful without being a phobia. You might be stressed by a fear of sunburn if you are living in southern Texas without having Heliophobia (fear of the sun).


Another way to recognize the difference is by observing how the change occurred, presuming that you were not born with anxiety.

If a response (change) occurs fast for example like a panic attack, then that would be an anxiety response. But it has to be somewhat severe, because stress is supposed to come fast to enable us to react - but it is not meant to inhibit us from taking action.

If you feel the response more in waves or you can feel it build over hour or days, then that is classic stress.

Know or Unknown Stressor

A last thing to check is whether you know certain stressors in your life. Knowing stressors is a good thing; you can download the Stressor Chart here which has been developed to help detection stressors.

If you know your stressor your goal should be to tackle it or work around it. But if you are unable to work around it or avoid it the stressor and the knowledge that you are not able to "get away" from it may cause anxiety to build and be become a severe condition.

I hope this has helped to make the differences between stress and anxiety more clear.

Remember that the two are correlated and sometimes it is possible to separate them - the might just be too related in some cases.