Stress and anxiety can feel very similar, and at times the two go hand in hand. Anxiety causes stress, and stress can trigger anxiety.
Both stress and anxiety are normal parts of life, and when they're present in moderate levels, you can adapt to them or deal with them by changing negative life circumstances. Stress and anxiety can keep you aware of and alert to risks and give you the energy to make the adjustments that life requires.
But stress and anxiety can both become chronic and harmful to your health. If you have anxious, worried, fearful thoughts that persist on a day-to-day basis for at least 6 months and that interfere with your work, your social relationships, or your ability to enjoy your favourite hobbies, you may have an anxiety disorder.
What most distinguishes anxiety from stress is that anxiety comes with excessive, persistent worry and fear of what might happen. Another difference is that, when you're stressed, you can usually pinpoint what's causing your stress - like work, relationships, or money issues. They are often short-term and easily recognized. With anxiety, you may not know where it is coming from. It can feel like it's coming from nowhere and defy your attempts to rationalize it.
More than stress, anxiety can change the way you think, behave, and feel. Acute or ongoing physical symptoms can accompany anxiety, including abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, and rapid breathing. Anxiety can take over your usual thought patterns, swapping awareness for apprehension, confidence for panic, hope for doubt, and decision for indecision or avoidance. Concentration may be affected, and you may be more prone to lose your temper - and to lose sleep.
With both stress and anxiety, you can try to notice patterns and possibly figure out what makes you feel better and worse. Ask yourself, "Are there certain situations or circumstances where I tend to feel more anxious?" Among other things, foods, drinks, or medications may ramp up your stress response or trigger anxiety attacks.
Keep reading here to learn more about easing stress. Or, if you think you're experiencing anxiety symptoms, learn more about anxiety disorders.