I was asked the other day “What’s the difference between anxiety and stress?” It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a few times.

People tend to use the words anxiety and stress interchangeably, or favour one word over the other. This isn’t surprising because there are a lot of similarities between the two experiences.

Both anxiety and stress are:

  • feelings – we feel anxious and we feel stressed. The physical experience of anxiety and stress is very similar – increased heart rate, faster, breather, tension etc.
  • experienced when we are faced with a perceived threat (real or imagined). The feelings are essentially a signal from our unconscious mind to our conscious mind that our physical and/or emotional wellbeing is at risk. The signal focuses our attention on the threat and motivates us to take action to deal with it either immediately (stress) or to prepare for its possible occurrence (anxiety).
  • normal, natural experiences, and are key elements in our inbuilt survival system. They both serve a positive purpose – ultimately to keep us alive! If we didn’t experience them we’d have become extinct as a species a long time ago. However, they can, and do, become a problem for us if we experience them persistently – chronic stress and anxiety disorders (see below).

So what’s the difference?

A key difference is in the timing of the threat.

  • To experience stress is to know that we’re currently facing, or are about to face, a threat. It’s only possible to experience acute stress in response to something that’s happening in the moment or is imminent.
  • To experience anxiety is to worry or imagine that a future threat will harm us physically or emotionally. It’s impossible to get anxious about a threat that’s already happened or is happening right now. To experience anxiety we have to project out into our future and create a story, movie, or image in our mind’s eye of something going wrong, which our survival system then interprets as a threat. This arouses fear which triggers the stress response and generates the anxious feelings we experience.

When things go wrong with our survival system

Chronic Stress

Our survival system works on the basis that the feeling of acute stress dissipates once the threat has passed. We then enter a period of rest and recovery to prepare our mind and body for dealing with the next threat. Unfortunately, for too many people today, their survival system is pretty much switched on fulltime and they don’t have time to rest and recover. This leads to a build-up of stress hormones in the body. Once the level of stress hormones exceeds our ‘stress threshold’ and stays there, we are experiencing chronic stress. Many people who say “I’m stressed” are actually referring to the fact they’re experiencing chronic stress. Chronic stress is ‘bad stress’ and has been linked to degradation of the immune system and increased risk of disease.

Anxiety Disorders

We all know what it’s like to feel anxious. Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. We might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. It’s fine if this feeling happens only once in a while but when it is there more days than not; when it pushes itself into the centre of our life; when the feelings interfere with daily activities, such as job performance and relationships, then it’s labelled an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary feelings of anxiety. For a person with an anxiety disorder anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating and painful, physically and emotionally.

Say ‘Goodbye’ to your Anxiety & Stress

If anxiety or stress are currently a problem for you then whatever your anxiety and stress level, my upcoming workshop (Feb) Say ‘Goodbye’ to Your Stress and Anxiety, is going to be of real benefit for you.

During the workshop you’ll practice a range of proven, practical, evidence-based tools and techniques designed to help you avoid, and reduce, anxiety and stress, allowing you to regain control and feel more confident. Many of these tools and techniques you can start using straight away so that by the end of the workshop you’ll already have begun to make a positive change towards saying ‘goodbye’ to your stress and anxiety.

To find out more about this potentially life changing workshop click here.

If you’d like to invest in some one on one coaching with me just text/call me on 021 056 8389 for a free 30 minute phone/skype consultation.

Go well


REMEMBER – “When you change your mind you change your life.”

Tony helps people of all ages say ‘goodbye’ to anxiety, stress, depression and trauma in the shortest time possible. His practical, evidence based solution focused approach is designed to enable you to thrive and start fully enjoying life again in the shortest time possible.