Stress vs. Anxiety: What’s The Difference? (And How To Cope With Both)

Stress vs. Anxiety: What’s The Difference? (And How To Cope With Both)

Written by Michaela MacBlake Matthews

What Is Stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response to a perceived threat. The cause could be physical, financial, or even socially based. Stress typically involves some sort of expectation or requirement.The person dealing with it generally regards the source as an important problem to funnel their energy into, and recognizes some sort of viable end goal.

How Do I Know If I’m Stressed?

Stress can slip in the back door when the stressor itself is rooted in a long-term goal or problem. Things like debt and illness can easily begin to accumulate stress over time, while a short-term stressor, like a near-accident at a stop sign, are easy to identify because they come on suddenly.

Long term stresses can manifest themselves as muscle tension, shallow breathing, excessive sighing, insomnia and digestion trouble, among other things.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety stems from the perception of a problem, or the overextension of efforts to anticipate outcomes. Anxiety tries to plan out every tiny detail of what could go wrong before getting started, and oftentimes, never runs out of new details.

How Do I Know If I’m Anxious?

Anxiety can cause all of the same physical symptoms of stress, but there is one key difference: stresses have an endpoint. When you eliminate the stressor, the stress goes away… but anxiety isn’t so straightforward. Anxiety is notorious for creating more of itself. When you eliminate a source of anxiety, it often floods in more of the same in slightly different packaging.

Coping With Stress

Stick figure in front of blue sky, climbing up a pyramid of yarn skeins to reach a purple flag.

Stress, at any given moment, needs one of two things: To be dealt with, or forgotten about.

Because stress stems from legitimate concerns, one of the best things you can do to soothe it is to take the reins on what needs to be done about the problem, and when you’ll get to take those actions.

However, stress usually comes paired with the waiting game. The time spent between each step is what gives stress fuel, and makes us feel more helpless than we really are. Whether you’re waiting on some paperwork to come through, or have to hold off for another person to be ready, it’s important to recognize when you’ve done all you could so far, and set the stressor down until things can move forward again.

The trick to de-stressing is to see and respect the importance of it, just as much as you respect the stress itself. Crafting and creating can be a great way to shake off some of that tension, especially if you’re making a gift for someone you love.

After all, your loved ones are definitely as important as that impending deadline, and depending on the magnitude of the stressor, they’re probably much, much more important. This is why families and communities band together during crisis; caring is cleansing.

Coping With Anxiety

Graphic stick person with one finger up to their lips and question marks around their head, pausing to think in a large greenhouse.

Coping with anxiety, on the other hand, may require a hard look at your anxieties themselves. If left unchecked, the micromanaging nature of anxiety will over reach into some of the most superfluous fears imaginable.

Some anxieties may be half-rooted. Social anxiety and the fear of rejection make sense. Fear of being alone also has some psychologically based roots, for example.

However, people who really struggle with anxiety know that it does not commit itself to logic. Sometimes the best thing you can do is give your anxiety a microphone, and conduct the ‘so, what?’ interview.

In true Shania Twain fashion, poke and prod your anxiety. “Okay, so you’re worried we won’t get there on time…” and follow up with the “So, what?”

Anxiety is terrible at making a case for itself. It usually lives in half-finished thoughts, and comes up with new ones to cover up the gaps in logic. If there is anything reasonable or worth addressing in there, the ‘so, what?’ interview will help you find it and separate it from the herd, so you can release all the clutter that’s left.

The Differences And Common Theme

Ultimately, stress and anxiety produce the same fight-flight-freeze responses, but the difference lies in which problems you choose to respect, and which ones you choose to parent.

Higher self esteem, and the belief that you are capable of performing well under pressure, can turn stressors into anxieties, ready to be confronted and dismissed. Inversely, low faith in self and a mindset of scarcity can turn every micro-anxiety into a stressor.

At the end of the day, the only way to navigate stress and anxiety long term is to accept the unknown, and the potential for change… To believe that you can adapt, and that you will when the time is right:

Darn Good Yarn's Yarn-Tree of life, purple tree with yarn skein leaves.

Respect your stress enough to contend with it as much as you can, and then value your inner-peace enough to put something nicer in its place, in the meantime.

Meet the Author

Close up of the author, Michaela Matthews wearing red lipstick and a poofy red scarf with white flower arrangement in background.

"Mac" is on the Lifestyle Team here at Darn Good Yarn, and loves taking a ‘teach a man to fish’ approach to creative therapy. She is certified in neuro-linguistic programming, and is also the surreal artist and author behind Surrealismac.