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Worry, Stress, and Anxiety - What's the Difference?

On any given day, you may become worried, stressed, or anxious. Maybe you just started a new job, or maybe you have a test tomorrow. You'd often hear people complain of feeling anxious about something, but does that mean they have Anxiety? How is Anxiety different from stress? Although it may be difficult to tell the difference, it is very important to understand what makes

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, commonly known as Anxiety, is a medical condition and unlike feeling worried, stressed, or anxious, it will not go away over time.

The Differences Between the Three

Worrying about something may look like dwelling on a certain topic. It is often obsessive and occupies one's mind for an extended period of time. Worry is a cognitive feeling, meaning it is in the mind. However, there are ways to cope with worrying too much. Some of these include:

-   Taking action about the problem you are dealing with and worrying about.

-   Journaling about your worries, or talking about them, both of which help get your worries off your chest.

-   Trying to only think about or ruminate on your feelings for a certain amount of time, and then thinking about or participating in another activity.

Stress and Anxiety When Feeling Threatened

Stress is the physical aspect of anxiety, causing adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body to rise. Some physical symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to, increased heart rate, perspiring, and breathing faster. Stress is part of the human condition and instinctive, as stress helps us respond to threats. There are also different ways to cope with feeling stressed out, as listed below. 

-   Exercise, as it may be a helpful way to exert your energy when your adrenaline and cortisol levels are high.

-   Accept that there are things that are out of your control, and instead focus on things in your life that you can control.

-   If you are stressing over something you can control, use the stress as motivation instead.

Anxiety is very similar to stress, but you can feel it even when there isn't a threat. It is both a cognitive and physical feeling, so it combines feelings of worry and stress, and is physiologic. There are tips to manage feelings of anxiety as well. 

-   If you drink caffeine, try to reduce your intake, as caffeine itself can raise your heart rate. 

-   Remember that feelings of anxiety are not forever, and that they will pass. 

-   Try to take deep breaths and focus on your breathing to distract you. 

Although worry, stress, and anxiety are normal human feelings, there is a certain point when those feelings become more extreme and warrant an evaluation. There is a big difference between the feeling of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The most common anxiety diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD for short. GAD can negatively affect people by impairing their ability to complete their daily tasks. If you feel this way over two weeks or longer, you should et a diagnosis by a medical doctor/psychiatrist like Dr. Sambunaris, so you can better understand your feelings, and get help to live our fullest life!


Jordan, P., Shedden-Mora, M. C., & Löwe, B. (2017). Psychometric analysis of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD-7) in primary care using modern item response theory. PLOS ONE, 12(8). 

Pattee, E. (2020, February 26). The Difference Between Worry, Stress, and Anxiety.

Photo by Riccardo Carati on Scopio

Amanda Leekley currently serves as an intern at Dr. Sambunaris and Associates, as well as the Institute for Advanced Medical Research. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Georgia with a minor in Sociology. Long-term, she hopes to complete graduate studies in Psychology, allowing her to teach in a higher education setting and lead clinical research studies with students.


Angelo Sambunaris, M.D.

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