Do You Experience Stress or Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety tends to be used interchangeably. They are part of the same bodily reaction called ‘fight or flight’ and therefore have similar physical symptoms. Whilst it can be hard to tell them apart, there are also some fundamental differences that we need to be aware of.

Understanding similarities and differences of stress and anxiety is the key to recognise our own experiences and how they may be affecting us, as well as to proactively manage them.

In this blog, I will cover 3 key facts you need to know about stress and anxiety as well as recommended tools to manage them.

  1. Same mechanism

Both stress and anxiety are perfectly normal human reactions to threatening or worrying situations (or stressors), which can be real or perceived. They are part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, designed to keep us safe from actual physical harm by preparing the body to deal with danger.

When ‘fight or flight’ response triggered, body releases stress hormones activating cascade of defensive survival reactions – the lungs breathe and the heart beat faster pumping more oxygenated blood to the organs and limbs, the senses become sharper, the body releases nutrients to boost energy. These immediate reactions put us in a heightened state of alertness ready to deal with the stressor - either fight or run away.

  1. Different triggers, longevity and time frames

Stress is simply this ‘Fight or Flight’ response triggered by external stressors such as an impending deadline, tense phone call or presentation you are about to give. Stress tends to be short term, experienced in the present and dissipates when the stressor is no longer present or dealt with. For example, as a project deadline approaches, you may feel stress with rush of adrenaline, energy and drive to get things done. This is a short-term stress and actually helps you to achieve your goal. When you deliver your project, the body restores its normal state of operation.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, constant or excessive worries that we feel about the future in the absence of a stressor. In other words, we feel anxiety because of our internal perceptions and thoughts about our potential experience and how we will cope with it. For example, even though you are working well and on track to deliver your report by the deadline, you may still feel anxious, ruminating and fearing negative outcomes - ‘what if the deadline moves forward? can I cope? what if I am the only person thinking the project can’t be completed earlier? then, what my boss and colleagues think of me?’. Perhaps these questions sound familiar.

  1. How to recognise them

Both stress and anxiety share the typical physical symptoms of being in ‘fight or flight’ response mode including elevated heart rate and blood pressure, fast and shallow breathing.

Whilst stress is short term and dissipates once the stressor is no longer present, many of us live with chronic stress.

When stress becomes more pervasive, constantly triggered by stressors, we can experience nearly identical set of physical and mental symptoms as anxiety such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, sleep difficulties or insomnia.

Once again it may seem difficult to tell apart stress and anxiety. Still, many people recognise anxiety with its additional markers such as the feeling of distress, worry, unease or dread.

For example, if you are feeling butterflies in your stomach and losing your sleep about your first day in your new job, you may be feeling stressed. However, if you are lying awake at night worrying about ‘what if you are not ready?, what if someone asks you a question that you can’t answer?, or how will you cope with a new team and expectations?’, you may be experiencing anxiety.


▪️ You can proactively manage stress and anxiety

Before stress becomes chronic and anxiety starts to interfere with your life, there are several exercises and tools you can use to cope with and manage stress and anxiety, including:

  • Mindful way of working and living: Many of us simply not aware of being stressed or anxious, leaving us at the mercy of runaway emotions and cascade of unhelpful or counterproductive thoughts and actions. Why?

Because understanding our current state requires us to be able to read even the smallest physiological and emotional signs before they escalate. This level of self-awareness, one of the cornerstones of Mindfulness, is very important to notice stress and anxiety early on and employ the right tools to manage them effectively.

Learning and cultivating Mindfulness, not as a concept but a new aware state of being and doing, are highly recommended to build a strong connection to our brain and body.

  • Understand and manage the triggers: Routine activities of our work and daily lives can trigger stress such as alerts on our smart devices and computers, deadlines, social or work gatherings.

Notice what are the main stress triggers for you and manage them accordingly. For example, if every time you receive an email you feel a rush of energy and compulsion to check it, simply turn off the email alerts on your computer and mobile devices.

  • Relaxation techniques:Simple activities can help soothe the mental and physical signs of stress and anxiety. These techniques include mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises and yoga.
  • Exercise:Physical exertion help release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.
  • Exercise to discover unproductive thoughts and replace them with positive ones: Simply write down a list of unhelpful thoughts and another list of positive, evidence based thoughts to challenge and replace them.

For example, at work, if you are feeling anxious about ‘what if my clients don’t like my report?’, list all positive evidences to challenge that negative thought which may include specific reports you successfully delivered in the past, every positive feedback you received from your clients and managers for your work, all the amazing work and effort you are putting into the report.

  • Positive visualisation:Creating a mental image of successfully meeting and conquering a specific fear or worry can be beneficial.


Stress and anxiety are part of our body’s natural response to threat and therefore have a valid purpose in ensuring our survival. Problems arise when stress becomes chronic and feelings and thoughts created by anxiety starts to overwhelm and interfere with our lives.

With the right tools and positive attitude, we all have power not only to keep stress and anxiety in check but also make them work for our benefit.