Is it Stress or Anxiety? And what can you do?

Stress and anxiety have lots of similarities. Both can keep you up at night. Both can cause headaches, stomach aches, and other body sensations. Both can make you lose your appetite or plow through all the comfort food in your kitchen. Both can make you quick to anger, yell at your kids, or long to veg out in front of the TV or your Facebook news feed.

So, what’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

The biggest difference is that stress is a response to something happening now or in the future. It can be something you might think of as good, like a new job, moving into your dream house, marriage, vacation, or childbirth. It can also come from things we think are negative like like money issues, illness, layoff or firing, death, divorce. It can last for some time, but generally gets better once the stressor is gone – when you’ve been at the new job long enough to know your role and tasks, or when you get to your vacation spot and settle in, or when the divorce is final and you find yourself feeling relieved.

And why does it matter?

It matters because stress is more temporary and there are many things you can do to help. Anxiety lingers long after the stressful event is over and causes more disruption to health, outlook, and life (more on that in another blog post).

Here are some common symptoms of stress to add to those above:

  • Worries and fear about current or future events or possibilities
  • Feeling agitated or restless
  • Easily tired
  • Having muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders
  • Irritable or angry outbursts without cause
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Spinning thoughts that are hard to turn off
  • Trouble getting to or staying asleep

None of these is easy but you can learn to manage your symptoms of stress.

You can meditate and focus on rhythmic breathing, exercise to loosen tight muscles, sing an upbeat song, loudly and while dancing around, call a friend to vent or share, talk to your pets. You can read something absorbing or funny, take a bath with candles and music, or go for a walk out in nature.

If none of these ideas work, your feelings and symptoms haven’t lessened over time, and the event is long past, you might have anxiety instead of stress. If you think you need more help than these suggestions, or think it’s too big to manage alone, seek a counselor who can help you.

You deserve, we all deserve, to feel peace and contentment.

What do you do to relieve stress? I’d love to hear your solutions. Post your ideas below or email me at and let me know if I can include them in another blog.

Thanks for reading.