Do I have Anxiety or Stress or both?

Why it matters and what they do to your body

As humans, we all experience stress and anxiety. It’s nature’s way of keeping us safe, preparing us, and motivating us. Stress and anxiousness can be good things, but the problem is when it interferes with our lives, hurts us, and causes physical harm.

There are differences, but also similarities. Basically, stress and anxiety both create a body and mind feedback loop, where the mind “thinks” something, and the body reacts.

As an anxiety/happiness coach, I work primarily with people with anxiety, but stress is a close second. As a person that suffered from anxiety, I am very familiar with how it causes damage to our relationships, health, career, and daily life.

Some are SUPER LUCKY and are suffering from both. Personally, I was suffering from both. It’s possible we are in the same boat.

However, there is often confusion between stress and anxiety. With my clients, I teach the difference between them and how to overcome them. For people that aren’t my clients, I bet you can benefit from learning this stuff too.

So, the question is, “Is this Anxiety or Stress or both?”

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In the Dictionary Stress is:

  1. Physiology. a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.
  2. physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension: Worry over his job and his wife’s health put him under a great stress.
  3. a situation, occurrence, or factor causing this: The stress of being trapped in the elevator gave him a pounding headache.

In the Dictionary Anxiety is:

  1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune: He felt anxiety about the possible loss of his job.
  2. earnest but tense desire; eagerness: He had a keen anxiety to succeed in his work.
  3. Psychiatry. a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.

Medically, stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.

Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health.

Medically, Anxiety is a medical diagnosis and there are frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).

These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time.

From what I can tell, a person can be diagnosed with anxiety, but there is no medical diagnosis of stress. What they do diagnose you with are the body manifestations that stress causes, like a heart attack or TMJ.

Why do I care?

It’s important to find out the difference as there are different ways to overcome them.  They are triggered by different things and there are it varies in how to “attack” them.

Working with stress, you need to pay attention to external factors. How can you prioritize? Is there something you can delegate? Do you need to work on saying “No”?

Working with anxiety, you need to pay attention to internal thoughts. Is this real? What else can be true? What values are missing or not being honored from your life that you can work on adding back in? Are there triggers for this?

Once you know which one you have, you can more accurately and efficiently squash them from your life.

It’s important to say that stress and anxiousness are part of the human psyche. What you will squash is the debilitating part of the stress and anxiety. You’ll be able to take control back and feel better AND look better.

Let’s start with a quiz

Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Do you constantly cycle with negative self-talk?
  2. Do you have difficulty concentrating?
  3. Do you get mad and react easily?
  4. Do you have recurring neck or headaches?
  5. Do you grind your teeth?
  6. Do you often feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed?
  7. Do you feed your stress with unhealthy habits-eating or drinking excessively, smoking, arguing, or avoiding yourself and life in other ways?
  8. Do small pleasures not satisfy you?
  9. Do you experience flashes of anger over a minor problem?

If you can answer “Yes” to most of these questions, then you may have excessive stress in your life.

Now, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Do you experience shortness of breath, heart palpitation or shaking while at rest?
  2. Do you have a fear of losing control or going crazy?
  3. Do you avoid social situations because of fear?
  4. Do you have fears of specific objects?
  5. Do you fear that you will be in a place or situation from which you cannot escape?
  6. Do you feel afraid of leaving your home?
  7. Do you have recurrent thoughts or images that refuse to go away?
  8. Do you feel compelled to perform certain activities repeatedly?
  9. Do you persistently relive an upsetting event from the past?

If you can answer “Yes” to most of these questions, then you may have excessive anxiety in your life.

You see, the primary differences, with this quiz, is stress is wrapped in negativity, unhappiness, and unhealthy patterns. Anxiety is wrapped in fear/worry, inflexibility, repeating and stuck in thoughts.


chart with similarities of stress and anxiety

Did you know that if you have stress or anxiety and if you do not work on reducing it those can lead to scary medical diagnoses such as dementia, heart attacks, diabetes, or cancer? Also, they can lead to divorce, isolation/loneliness, quicker aging, depression, and pain  – oh my gosh. SO.Much.PAIN.

Both Stress and Anxiety causes you to tense up and creates inflammation in the body.

Your negative thoughts and feelings will show up in your body. Headaches. TMJ, sore lower back, tight shoulders, thoracic outlet syndrome (I had that), high resting heart rate, heartburn, IBS, insomnia, frequent infections (colds, flu, pneumonia, etc), preterm labor, ulcers, PCOS, thyroid disorders, blah, blah, oh to the freakin’ blah. Your body is GUARANTEED to be in pain somehow with out of control stress/anxiety.


Stress symptoms can vary and change over time. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent illness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Poor concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of sexual desire

Anxiety symptoms also can vary and change over time. Here are common symptoms:

  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Shortness of breath
  • The anxiety or worry cause significant distress in relationships, work, or other areas of life

Symptoms that are common in both – lots of similarities here.

  • Frequent headaches
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Low energy / Easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty quieting the mind
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Psychosomatic symptoms: dizziness, lightheaded, pins and needles, excessive sweating, chest pain
  • Back and/or neck pain

Something that both do is “age” you. Consider a person that has had traumatic events, high stress, etc. What do they look like? They tend to look older, withered, and hardened. Plus, they tend to die earlier or be on lots of medications.

chart with differences between stress and anxietyWhere overreaction comes from differences

Breaking it down a bit more, anxiety is all in your head. I mean, it’s real, but it’s thoughts of fear/worry in your head. You overreact to your thoughts. For example, distress or fear of what MAY happen.

Stress is all external pressures. Again, it’s real, but it’s outside stimuli that you overreact to. For example, looming deadlines or a to-do list of 99 problems.

Stress often ends once you complete the stressors, such as a wedding, ending a bad relationship, or getting the hang of a new job. Anxiety doesn’t really end, it stays around long after it’s expected to go home and your problem is resolved.

Now what?

If you are a frequent reader of mine, you know I’m all about taking action.

Here are to-do items that you can experiment with to see what works best for you:

  • Figure out if you have anxiety, stress, or both
  • Add exercise to your day to help eliminate the excess harmful hormones such as taking walks, powerlifting, yoga, running, or swimming
  • Seek counseling or coaching (I’m a coach!) to work on taking control back
  • Learn coping skills that work for you
  • Learn life skills
  • Get more sleep
  • Clean up your diet to reduce or end sugar and caffeine
  • Get your hormones checked to make sure stress or anxiety are not caused by hormone imbalances such as thyroid, progesterone, or diabetes
  • Practice meditation (this works with both stress and anxiety)
  • Practice self-compassion (works on both)

Now that you know the differences

A person with a lot of stress can develop debilitating anxiety. A person with anxiety can develop excessive stress. Overcoming one could help overcome the other.

Keep on mind, it’s possible to live a life where stress and anxiety are GOOD for the system. To me, that is the goal of where to be. What do you think?

But right now – right now we need to buckle down and fix this.

You, me, our friends, heck the World, has endless tasks to complete. Everyone at one time or another experiences the external and internal pressures of completing a job well done. It’s hard to breathe easily and have calm in our lives when working long hours, keeping up with social obligations, our kid’s schedules, and constantly having bad news delivered on TV, social media, and our phones.

There are ways to fix this. Understanding the difference between the two will help you to figure out the best actions to take to reduce your stress or anxiety. A win for everyone. With this, you’ll have a higher quality of life.


It doesn’t have to take over your life. It doesn’t have to steal your happiness. It doesn’t have to harm you or others.

Bonus, overcoming them will also help you look, feel, and be more youthful.

Please share this post with your circle of family and friends to help others feel and look better.


Post updated from original published date of Jul 23, 2018.