What Is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

stress and anxiety

What is the difference between stress and anxiety anyway?

This question is sometimes debated in the mental health industry. Some even claim they are one and the same. They share many qualities, like headaches, upset stomach, obsessive worrying, and overall uneasiness.

Don’t let those similarities fool you. There is a clear difference between stress and anxiety and understanding this difference can help you manage and cope effectively.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at this question and reveal the main differences, common causes, symptoms, and treatments.

There are four types of stress: psychological, emotional and physical. Each of these types can have a negative impact on your college experience. The fourth type of stress, eustress, is a good type of stress. It is the kind the motivates you to study for exams or to perform your best in an activity.

Anxiety is a reaction to stress.

Some people react with extreme worry or apprehension of what may happen as a result of the stressor.

For example, losing your job is considered a stressor that can lead to negative emotions, like anxiety. Feeling anxious due to a job loss is normal and can motivate you to find another job quickly. Feeling anxious to the point of having panic attacks, abusing substances or refusing to leave your house is something different.

When a person has an abnormal level of anxiety, they may have an anxiety disorder. There are several anxiety disorders including general anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, agoraphobia, social and separation anxiety.

Even though there is a clear difference between stress and anxiety, both effect college students at alarming rates. If you are feeling stress or anxiety while in college, you are not alone.

Stress and Anxiety Statistics

The difference between stress and anxiety are recognized in statistics.

The American Psychological Association reports there has been a 30% increase in the number of students seeking counseling on campus. Of that percentage, 45% reported stress and anxiety as their reason for needing help.

A recent study of 67,000 college students showed 3 out of 4 students reported stress. Some reported this stress has led to other mental health disorders, including panic attacks.

A study conducted at Penn State University found anxiety surpassed depression as the number one mental health issue facing college students. They also found 21.9% of those studied admitted anxiety had negatively affected their academic performance.

Knowing the causes of stress and anxiety may help students.

What Causes Stress and Anxiety?

There are five main causes of stress and anxiety in college. However, that's not to say there are only five causes – studying for exams, financial burdens, social pressures, feeling homesick, relationship issues, homework assignments, and meeting expectations of parents and professors are just a few.

A student can react to any of these stressors with anxiety. Just thinking about their responsibilities can cause some students with great anxiety. When you are anxious, you may find it hard to sleep, unable to concentrate or focus, poor diet, digestive issues, and even using substances to overcome the effects of anxiety.

All these reactions will produce further negative effects.

Students can prepare for these causes by recognizing the difference between stress and anxiety and being ready for them when they occur. Preparation includes knowing specific symptoms related to each.

Common Symptoms

Although there is a difference between stress and anxiety, symptoms can be similar and overlap. Therefore, so many confuse the two.

Stress symptoms can be physical or emotional. Acne is one very visible symptom of stress. Headaches, pain, sickness, digestive issues, low sex drive, and insomnia are other symptoms, as well as rapid heart rate and excessive sweating.

Some students find themselves eating more and gaining weight, other students lose their appetite and lose weight.

Emotional symptoms of stress include depression, feeling overwhelmed, feeling a loss of control over your life. You may also feel restless, yet lack the motivation to do anything.

One of the most common emotional symptoms of stress is anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety among college students include excessive worrying, feeling irritable or agitated, restlessness, and feeling tired even though you should have energy.

You may even have trouble concentrating and find yourself having irrational fears. Meaning, you worry over things that may not ever happen or that are out of your control. Your anxiety may increase to a point where you experience panic.

Any of these symptoms is a good reason to seek treatment since stress and anxiety are curable.

Effects on College Life

Both stress and anxiety can make it hard for a college student to succeed unless you learn effective coping skills. Without these skills, students may find themselves missing classes, avoiding peers and social activities, and isolating themselves in their dorm room.

Other students may choose to cope by drinking alcohol or using drugs. Unfortunately, this leads to even more stress for the student’s physical and emotional health.

Too much stress can lead to lowered grades, the inability to balance work, studies, and relationships, and can even lead to greater mental health problems.

Whether you are just beginning to understand the difference between stress and anxiety, are at the onset of symptoms, or if you are unable to manage your stress and anxiety, there is help on campus.

Finding Relief on Campus

There are a variety of things that may help relieve stress among college students. In order to find what helps relieve stress for you, you need to try different things and decide whether or not it helps.

Almost all colleges and universities provide counseling services to students. They even work with off-campus programs to help students in need. Programs such as peer mentoring, sober living dorms, meditation classes, exercise groups, or individual and group counseling are available on campus.

Prevention is always the best way to manage stress and anxiety. And if you can manage your stress, you are less likely to feel anxious, since one is a reaction of the other.

Start improving your abilities to combat stress that leads to anxiety today. Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is a great first step. Now you are ready to act and take back your positive college experience.