MENTAL HEALTH TALK: Is it stress? Anxiety? Or both?

By GSU staff rep Donna Driediger

We often hear coworkers, family and friends talk about stress and anxiety as a normal part of a day, but do we understand the difference between the two? And do we really know what a normal amount of stress or anxiety is?

The difference between Stress and Anxiety

Stress is any demand placed on your brain or physical body. An event or scenario that makes you feel frustrated or nervous can trigger it.

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. While it can occur as a reaction to stress, it can also happen without any obvious trigger.

Both stress and anxiety involve mostly identical symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • trouble sleeping
  • digestive issues
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle tension
  • irritability or anger.

People experience feelings of stress and anxiety at points in time in their lives.

Stress and anxiety can be a helpful motivator to accomplish daunting tasks or do things you’d rather not (but really should do). Unmanaged stress and anxiety can interfere with daily life and take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Stress and anxiety produce a range of physical and psychological symptoms.

The big difference between stress and anxiety is the presence of a specific trigger.

Stress is typically tied to a specific situation. Once that situation resolves, so does your stress. That doesn’t mean stress is always short-lived, though. Chronic stress refers to long lasting stress that occurs in response to ongoing pressure, like a demanding job or family conflict.

Anxiety, by contrast, doesn’t always have a specific stressor.

Not sure whether stress or anxiety is behind your symptoms?

Step back and think of what’s going on in your life right now. What kinds of things do you worry about? Are they specific threats or events? If you can tie your feelings back to a specific trigger, they’re likely the result of stress. If the exact cause isn’t clear, or your symptoms stick around after the initial trigger goes away, it may be anxiety.

An example:

Consider car troubles. Maybe you know you really need new brakes, but you can’t afford to replace them just yet. For the next few weeks, you feel uneasy about driving. What if your brakes fail going down a hill?

What if a cat jumps out and your brakes don’t’ engage? A few weeks later, you have a fresh set of brakes and you’ve stopped worrying about driving safely. In this case, your nervousness was due to stress, triggered by having bad brakes.

Maybe you get your new brakes and don’t really notice a change in your symptoms. You’re still nervous about driving and feel a vague sense of unease that you can’t quite put your finger on. Or, your brakes were never an issue in the first place, but you can’t shake an overall feeling of nervousness about getting on the road. That would be anxiety.

Is feeling stressed or anxious impacting your work life?

Know that GSU is here to assist you in ensuring you have the tools available to have a safe workplace. Work and life stressors and anxiety are a delicate walk to navigate. If you need help, please reach out.

If you are stressed or anxious in your workplace or getting to a point where it is no longer manageable, contact Donna Driediger at