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What are the Differences between Stress and Anxiety?
Unhappy Asian Woman Sits On Sofa At Home Feeling Sad, Frustrated

Stress and anxiety are common fight-or-flight responses that most individuals experience at least once. When your brain perceives a threat, your body releases stress hormones that heighten your senses and makes you more alert to potential threats. This process may lead to physical and emotional symptoms such as elevated heart rate, fatigue, and insomnia.

Stress and anxiety therefore share a few symptoms and are often used interchangeably. However, there are differences between the two.

Read on to learn more about the differences between stress and anxiety.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to some change or threat. It is a physiological response to an external cause, such as busy schedules and unpaid bills, that generally subsides once the situation is resolved.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a psychological response affecting how you think, feel, and behave. It focuses on perceived threats or dangers rather than the demands of a specific situation. It typically involves a sense of unease, fear, or worry about potential future threats or negative outcomes.

How do they differ?

  1. Source and triggers

One of the most prominent differences between stress and anxiety is that the former is reactive while the latter is proactive.

Stress is the impact of a threat or stressor on an individual, coming and going with life’s ups and downs. On the other hand, anxiety refers to the dread and anticipation of a threat or stressor—sometimes, it may not even have an identifiable trigger. Because it is proactive, it is difficult to resolve and is persistently present in hopes of guarding against a future threat. Hence, it is likely to linger even after a problem has been resolved, whereas stress can be alleviated once the root problem is addressed.

  1. Focus

The focus of stress is primarily on the demands of the situation. Individuals may feel pressured or overwhelmed due to the challenges faced. With anxiety, the focus is on the emotional and physiological response, such as restlessness or rapid heartbeat.

  1. Nature of response

Stress can be positive or negative. The pressure can motivate you to perform better and accomplish your goals in moderate amounts. Too much, however, can lead to depression, difficulty sleeping, fluctuations in appetite and weight, and more.

Anxiety is typically counterproductive and has no positive effects. It can interfere with your daily life, causing you to feel stuck and indecisive.

  1. Cause and effect

Stress sometimes precedes anxiety. If stress occurs frequently and you are constantly exposed to stress hormones, you may become more susceptible to anxiety disorders.

On the other hand, it is less likely for stress to result from anxiety.

What does this mean?

When contemplating the difference between stress and anxiety, it is common to wonder if one is worse. However, both are concerning and may require treatment.

Both stress and anxiety can be debilitating and prevent you from fully participating in life. If you feel distressed and have difficulty coping with life’s challenges, therapy is always an excellent option.


Though stress and anxiety appear similar, they are two distinct conditions with different sources, focus, and nature. However, one is not more treatment-worthy than the other. If you need extra support, we recommend you seek therapy or counselling. If you seek private counselling online in Singapore, check out Executive Counselling. We provide individual counselling sessions with executive counsellor Lisa Oake. We also offer career counselling for professionals, infidelity counselling, and marriage counselling in Singapore.