Stress and anxiety are often words to describe the same condition. The words are often used interchangeably. It is common to find health professionals diagnosing stress or anxiety as if there is no difference. As part of my practise I regularly treat GP's who report that they do not know the difference between the two conditions and that they would typically prescribe the same treatments anyway.
The difference between anxiety and stress is pretty straight forwards. Stress is the feelings stemming from real events and those events actually happening as your body creates stressful feelings, whilst anxiety or severe anxiety is the effect of thinking about an event. This can be made more complex for people with severe anxiety because then they think about the fear, the feelings of being fearful and this can be enough to create the release of the survival response. So for some people with panic, agoraphobia, OCD or social anxiety, by thinking about how they felt it creates its own over fearful response. For poeple who have these conditions they can live in a constantly exhausting cycle of fearing fear and with it creating the flight or fight response.
The confusion comes from how the body deals with these two conditions. Regardless of whether it is a severe episode of stress or anxiety, your body will behave in the same way. This is because your brain cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.
So if there is a stress creating event happening right now, for example a bear is in front of you, then your brain will respond correctly, releasing the survival chemicals, because there really is a bear in front of you. Whilst if you were thinking about going to a place where there could be bears and if you are imagining this as if you are looking through the your own eyes, as if you could actually see the bear in front of you, your body would respond accordingly. It would still release the chemicals that are created to help you escape from danger or have the energy and alertness to fight and preserve your life.
Both stress and anxiety are useful tools in the world of survival, The way your body responds to stress is deliberately designed to help you deal with an immediate, challenging and typically dangerous situation whilst the anxiety response is designed to help you plan for an event in the near future so that you perform at your best. The problems for both stress and anxiety come from being too alert, either being too sensitive to events which surround you and constantly responding to them as stress or because you are in an environemnt which has too much stress going on. whereas for severe anxiety, you are releasing the anxiety, alertness response too frequently for you body to fully restore. Either way there things that you can do to help you deal with too much stress and anxiety. There are some simple things you can do to treat severe stress or debilitating anxiety find out more throughout the site.