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What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

Although stress and anxiety often come hand in hand they are actually different and should not be treated the same especially within the workplace. We see a lot of people with or being told they have anxiety in the workplace which in fact is being misdiagnosed and is in fact stress.


What is the difference between Stress and Anxiety?


Stress is usually a response to an external cause such as a tight deadline or a heavy workload. It is a natural response to a situation your brain begins to produce the Cortisol hormone placing your body in “fight or flight” mode, your heart begins to pump faster, and you may begin to sweat. You can also feel nervous, angry, or frustrated!


Stress is not always as bad thing as it can also motivate you to finish tasks, concentrate on goals and drive peak performance. Overwhelming stress or chronic stress are not good for you mentally or physically and if you experience these for prolonged periods it can cause depression, difficulty sleeping, burnout, digestive issues and even heart disease!


Anxiety is more to do with the person's internal feelings normally a reaction to a stressor. It is a feeling of fear, apprehension, worry or nervousness. Some anxiety is normal for example before doing completing a test minor anxiety is expected. Anxiety can become out of control and start to impact day to day life this can cause both emotional, mental, and physical health problems.


When it comes to excess anxiety or anxiety disorders the feeling is out of proportion to the actual stressor, real or imagined “threat”. The threat they feel may seem over exaggerated or unbelievable for example someone may feel that if they see a dog, it could bite them, and they could die. People without that anxiety may be able to rationalise and say well the dog is very unlikely to bite you and even if it did it is very unlikely that would kill you. When you are the person feeling the anxiety, it is often hard to see things rationally or from someone else’s point of view.


It is always important to monitor your stress levels as there is a fine line between ordinary workplace stress and overwhelm leading to burnout and breakdowns. The Yerkes-Dodson Law is a great example of how to monitor stress levels. It focuses on the relationship between pressure and performan