What is the difference between anxiety and stress?

Published by


I am sometimes asked, “What is the difference between anxiety and stress?” If you look up stress and anxiety on the NHS website, you will find that they are lumped together. The only difference is that there are some specific disorders that the NHS label as “anxiety” – Generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder etc.

I tend to treat it as a scale – mild stress at one end of the scale, through to major anxiety at the other.

Everyone has a little bit of stress in their lives – even the most laid back, relaxed people feel a tiny bit of stress when their bladder is full and they need to go to relieve themselves. It’s part of life and motivates us to do something towards solving a problem.

When we have a lot on, or we have to get somewhere on time, our stress levels increase. The stress is our bodies reaction to a potential problem. If it didn’t really matter whether all our jobs got done or not, or if there were no consequences if we didn’t get to that meeting on time, then we wouldn’t get stressed about it – but it does matter – so we get stressed.

The worse the consequences are, the more stressed we get. When I was at school, I used to get really stressed about French lessons, because I wasn’t any good at it and the French teacher would get really angry and hand out severe punishments for getting things wrong.

Stress is the feeling we all get that motivates us to avoid something bad happening.
Stress has both physical and mental symptoms. Blood pressure goes up. Our heart rate rises. Muscles tense. It becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything except the bad consequences that we want to avoid. Now a small to moderate amount of stress is fine – it motivates us to avoid bad things happening to us. But it can get out of hand – and we usually call that anxiety.

We can unwittingly train ourselves into anxiety. If we constantly think about bad things that can happen – we can overthink things, we imagine what other people think about us, we can get small concerns out of all proportion – If we constantly think about bad stuff that can happen, our moderate amount of stress can become full-blown anxiety and this leads to all sorts of problems.

Physically, we can get headaches and dizziness; constant muscle tension can lead to tiredness and muscle pain; we can get digestive problems like reflux, IBS, burping, even vomiting; hearts can race and we can get palpitations; some people can get skin complaints or sexual problems.

A common mental problem is overthinking, where we go over and over bad things in our head. Concentration can become difficult as a result, and sometimes it can be difficult to make decisions. Constant worrying can lead to being forgetful and irritable.

Anxiety can effect sleep patterns, encourage you to eat too much, or too little, and you can end up drinking or smoking a lot more than you usually do, as you loose a little bit of self-control.

Other symptoms and side-effects are phobias, OCD, panic attacks, avoidance of social situations and so on.

So everyone has a bit of stress in their lives. Most people manage their lives quite well with a low level of stress. But if you are only just coping with the amount of stress and anxiety you are suffering from, then remember that you can do something about it. There is a solution – self-help, therapy or medication – they all have their place, but you need to take the first step and decide you want to do something about it.


#Stress #Anxiety #Hypnotherapy

See Also

NHS on Stress and Anxiety


Wikipedia on Psychological Stress


Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Tim Maude

Call Me on

07730 315503

or Contact Me

… and I will get back to you as soon as I can.