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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How can you tell if you are just stressed or if it is anxiety?

    Really interested to understand what is the difference. How do I know?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 2

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    I am a registered psychologist with many years of counselling experience in the field of relationships and fertility issues. In particular my focus is on … View Profile

    Stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably because symptoms from stress and anxiety are similar. Stress is normally a physical response to stimuli in the environment and it is useful when needing to make a snap decision i.e. the need to run away from a dangerous situation.

    Stress is a physical response that causes muscular tension and if chronic can cause stomach problems,headaches, backache and nausea. Stress can cause a worried anxious feeling but it differs from anxiety.

    Anxiety is usually associated with fear and the feeling is that you cant do something or want to avoid going somewhere through fear. This can lead to avoidance of certain situations and cause a disruption to your life.

    Both stress and anxiety can be the precursors of mental disorders. Stress that is chronic can cause depression. Anxiety can cause one to become fearful and avoid situations such as social, leading to social avoidance or a phobia about leaving ones home. Anxiety can be generalised and cause distress and disruption to how an individual would lead their normal life. Anxiety is usually classified as a disorder if it persists for more than a few months.

  • Anthony Berrick

    Psychologist

    As Beverley has explained, the difference between stress and anxiety isn't big, nor is it terribly important clinically. The terms are often used interchangeably, but one difference is that the term anxiety is usually used in reference to the anticipation of something bad in the future, whereas stress is usually considered a response to something in the present or recent past.

    However, I'm curious as to why you want to know the difference - do you feel like stress is okay but anxiety is bad (or the other way round)? If that's the case, I can reassure you that it makes no difference. Both are normal human emotions and (like all emotions) both can be useful or problematic - it all depends on what you do with them.

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