Stress and anxiety: two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, the thing is, even if you're prone to one of them or both of them, they are not the same thing. There's a major difference between the two, and we're going to get to the bottom of it for you.
The Thirty talked to Heather Silvestri, PhD, a New York City–based psychologist, about her take on the difference between stress and anxiety.
Stress typically refers to a situational experience. "It's a physiological and psychological response to a stressor, which is often obvious and explicitly identified," says Silvestri. A big presentation at work, your traffic-filled commute, an upcoming move - these can all be sources of stress that can cause your cortisol levels, or "stress hormone", to spike. This is when you'll experiences the symptoms of stress - sweaty palms, racing heart, chest pain, to name a few.
But the thing about stress that differentiates itself from anxiety: When the source of your stress is resolved, those symptoms tend to go away. That's not the case with anxiety.
"With anxiety, the internal disquiet stubbornly persists, without heeding the actual conditions," explains Silvestri. In other words, those who suffer from anxiety experience those same stress-like symptoms chronically, no matter the circumstances. That's why anxiety often feels inexplicable, because there's not always one source of it, making it difficult to overcome.
"Stress responses are hard-wired into our nervous system because we need them to survive," says Silvestri. "Anxiety can be seen as the lingering upheaval that doesn't necessarily quiet down when the situation improves. In this way, anxiety is the horse that ran away from the stable."
Silverestri added that chronic stress can "absolutely" lead to anxiety. She states that when we're perpetually stressed, turning off that switch and finding relief becomes more difficult. Remember that no matter which issue you're struggling with, you don't have to deal with it alone. Talk to someone you trust about what you're going through, and know that whether you're dealing with stress, anxiety, or something else, you can start feeling better.