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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

    I want to know what are the common signs and symptoms are of stress and anxiety and how to differntaite between them.

    I went to my GP as friends noticed I was stressing about alot of things that i didnt notice myslef doing and was referred to a psychologist.

    I have been told i may have anxiety but i feel as tho i just stress alot about everything as i have to be in control of the situation or i dont like it.

    I find it difficult to answer questions like what are u thinking? or what is worrying you? as i don't know. I know I stress but dont know what about and it frustrates me.

    I have a few close friends but cant go into groups where i dont know the ppl or talk to anyone i dont know without walking away and getting out of the situation if possible.

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Richard Hill

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Resident counsellor/psychotherapist at the Davis Health Centre with a solution focused approach; an international lecturer on the neuroscience and psychosocial genomics of human behaviour; author … View Profile

    Although they seem somewhat similar and often are experienced together, there is a distinct difference.

    Stress is the psycho-neuro-biological response to a feeling of concern, where there is a demand on the system, where there is an activation of emotion (both positive and negative). Technically, stress is a normal response that is stimulated by demand and naturally rises and dissipates every moment of the day. In many ways we have wronly named the disturbing thing we feel as stress. It is actually ‘distress’ or the stress that has gone ‘bad’. This is mostly because the situation - the demand - has not been resolved. This prolongs the time when we are in stress and this soon (certainly after a few hours, but definitely after a day or so) becomes something chronic and triggers stronger responses. After a lengthy time (weeks0 we enter into chronic stress issues that our bodies are not well evolved to handle. 50,000 years ago if you didn;t sort out a demand within a few weeks you most likely died or became severly debilitated and did not reproduce.

    Anxiety, on the other hand, is a demand that we becoem stressed about. Anxiety, however, is not a demand of the present moment. It is a fear of the future, of what might happen. When something is happening, you are no longer anxious about it because it is an event creating a demand (which may cause you stress). Anxiety is sometimes described as worry, which is ok to some extent, but worry is less demanding that anxiety. When you start to be anxious about your worries, then you amplify your stress levels.

    So, anxiety is fear based and it triggers the stress response. It is not the stress , or the distress, that is the main issue, it is the reasons for the anxiety. In therapy it is important to reduce the stress, but the therapy should focus on the anxiety - what is it about your life, your history or those around you or even the demands of society that take you out of the present and oput your mind into a focus on a fearful future.

    If you would like further discussion about your specific issue, feel free to make contact.

  • Anonymous


    I am not worried about situations that are coming up as if I know I wont feel comfortable I just don't attend. I worry more when put in a situation that I am not comfortable in whether it be a party or just the fact i can't find something and worry about what will happen.

    I am slowly starting to work out what i need to work on and how to deal with it. So im hoping with the continuation of sessions it will become clearer.

  • Richard Hill

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Resident counsellor/psychotherapist at the Davis Health Centre with a solution focused approach; an international lecturer on the neuroscience and psychosocial genomics of human behaviour; author … View Profile

    I am pleased that you are slowly working at things. That is the way to go.

    I just want to draw your attention to your answer. When you say ‘I am not worried about situations that are coming… I just don’t attend' that is actually sort of saying that you are concerned and a bit fearful about the future. You manage it by not attending, which is a way of handling it, but you have avoided the situation and you actually don't know if it would have been ok or not. Certainly, though, when we worry - be anxious - about something beforehand, it can very well be that our fear carries over into the event and then we have a stressful event. Also when you say, i ‘worry about what will happen’, then that is fear of the unknown future and is anxiety. That fear becomes the demand that results in stress. The trouble with our brain is that it can have trouble making out the difference between an actual threat and an imagined threat.

    Please keep working away at this and finding your feet, but remember if it is real and right in front of you, then it is stress. If it is something that might happen, then it is anxiety which you can get stressed about. That's the big difference.

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