People often use "stress" and "anxiety" interchangeably, but the terms describe different states of mind. Simply put, stress is a reaction to something happening now, while anxiety is a reaction to something that may happen in the future. Stress can cause anxiety, anxiety can also cause stress, and both get in the way of life. If you are struggling with either, talk to your doctor.
People commonly feel stress when they're in a situation that requires a new emotional or physical response. Any event that makes you feel angry, pressured or even excited can bring stress. It often comes from circumstances that require some kind of change or adaptation, such as starting a new job, moving to a new city or ending a relationship.
Everyone's body shows stress differently, and what is stressful for one person isn't necessarily stressful for another. Some physical symptoms you may experience when stressed include:
- Faster heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Frequent need to pee
- Hard time focusing
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
Emotional symptoms may include:
Some stress is normal and even helpful. However, extreme stress that persists over time can cause health problems. In fact, 40 percent of doctor visits are due to health issues caused by stress. If you feel that stress interferes with your daily life, be sure to consult with your primary care physician.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is associated with situations that cause people to be nervous, afraid and worried — usually for a future event, such as a sport competition, test or job interview. Anxiety occurs when you're anticipating an upcoming event and are afraid of its outcome.
Everyone feels anxious at times, but for some people it can be severe. Anxiety becomes a problem when you experience symptoms nearly every day to the extent that it interferes with daily activities, such as going to work or developing relationships.
Common anxiety symptoms include:
- Feeling powerless
- Chest pain
- A sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Feeling weak or tired
If your anxiety is impeding your day-to-day life, you could have an anxiety disorder. Common anxiety disorders include:
- Phobia: an overwhelming and irrational fear of something.
- Social anxiety: the inability to interact with other people or be around people at all.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): an overwhelming urge to reduce stress by repeating certain behaviors, as well as obsessive thought patterns.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a condition triggered by trauma and characterized by flashbacks, anger and depression.
Anxiety disorders are common and affect almost 30 percent of American adults at some point in life. All are treatable, most commonly with medication and relaxation, so visit your doctor if you are experiencing anxiety.
Youth reviewer: Erin Sampson
Reviewed by: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last reviewed: July 2019