Is this anxiety or am I just stressed out?


Do you find yourself wondering if the words “stressed” or “anxious” apply to you? And what is the difference between the two, anyways? This question is so common when I am beginning therapy with new clients that I thought it warranted attention here.


Stress is a part of everyday life, and everyone experiences it at some point or another.


It results from any situation where you find yourself feeling slightly threatened. Take a big presentation at work, for example. Why does it stress you out? Well, your brain knows that if it goes poorly, your reputation or status on your team may be threatened. Stress in your marriage may be in response to fighting or some other disconnect that may threaten the security of this important relationship.


Anxiety, on the other hand, is a fear reaction to stress.

It is when you start to worry about unknown, possible stress and threats--

which lead you to become concerned about your future.


One clear way to distinguish between stress and anxiety is that stress is a response to a specific issue (ie. stressor) while anxiety does not have a clearly identifiable cause.


A second distinguishing feature is that stress begins and ends with the stressor, while anxiety persists for more than six months, for more days than not.


Symptoms of both stress and anxiety:

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Physical symptoms like difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, tightening of your chest, pain, or dizziness

  • Trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep

  • Irritability, restlessness, or a feeling of being on edge

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle tension, especially in neck, jaw, or back


Signs that you may be experiencing stress:

  • You are able to identify the issue stressing you out

  • The distress goes away after the stressor resolves itself (ie. The presentation is over, the fight in your marriage is resolved, etc.)


Signs that you may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Worry, excessive fear, or obsessive thinking

  • You find yourself avoiding situations that are anxiety-provoking, but to the point where it is getting in the way of living your life

  • Its been going on for six months or more, on most days

While this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms of anxiety, if you find yourself answering yes to most of the items on this list, you might be experiencing generalized anxiety disorder.


Anxiety symptoms may also be associated with social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or a traumatic event.


Take control of your stress or anxiety now. Schedule a free consultation here.


Dr. Ayelet Krieger is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified yoga teacher who is dedicated to helping you live mindfully to beat stress and maximize joy. Click here to learn about services offered at Oasis Therapy Center and click here to schedule your free consultation.

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