Stress or Anxiety ? When to ask for help?

de Nadja NIKITIN


Sans titre

Nadja NIKITIN, is a clinical psychologist based in Serbia. She has been studying and living in France and in the UK where she is an accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. In this article she will explain how to make the difference between two common emotions we can face during our lives.

The terms stress and anxiety are often used today, and the statistics show that they are indeed very common and impact people’s lives greatly. In fact, European Trade Union reports in 2018 that one in five European workers endure work-related stress. According to The American Institute of Stress about 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress and 77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical health while 73 percent of people feel that stress impacts their mental health. Anxiety and Depression Association of America report that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting about 18% of the population every year. In the UK, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety reported with women twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.

However, I feel that there is often a confusion between stress and anxiety, and this is why it is paramount to understand the differences between them.

What differences?

Both stress and anxiety are natural emotional responses to danger or threat. Because our body releases stress hormone cortisol, the heart beats faster, the breathing is faster and our body is ready for a fight or flight response to danger. The main difference between stress and anxiety is the source of the ‘danger’ involved. Stress is usually caused either by a short-term external trigger such as work deadline or an exam or a long-term one such as poverty, illness etc. On the other hand, according to American Psychological Association, anxiety is defined by excessive and persistent worrying, that does not go away in the absence of stress, so anxiety is more internal based.

The symptoms of stress and anxiety are similar and thus often confused.

Symptoms of stress and anxiety


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How to cope with stress and anxiety?

It is common that a stressful event can cause a short-term stress response but turn into anxiety later on.  Because everyone goes through stressful events or periods in their lives, it is important to learn how to manage stress. However, when stress becomes too overwhelming and interfering with daily life, symptoms of anxiety come in and it is paramount to ask for professional help.

Everyone choses their ways to manage stress, but there are a few general strategies worth mentioning

  • Finding support and talking about it with friends, family, colleague, counsellor
  • Relaxation breathing
  • if possible, try to remove the stressor
  • treat the sleep disturbance, eating habits
  • rationalize, try not to do everything at the same time, set small goals that are easily achievable
  • try not to focus on things that you cannot change
  • try not to use drugs, alcohol, cigarettes to relieve stress, as they can make things worse
  • exercise daily
  • use your personal resources, if you enjoy writing- note down your feelings, if you have any hobby-use it to relax and take your mind off the stressors.

If the coping strategies do not work and the stress is not manageable, the excessive anxiety and worry persist, it is important to seek professional help. The most important features of generalized anxiety disorder are persistent and excessive worry about various domains, including work and school performance, that the individual finds hard to control. Physical symptoms include: restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances. If these symptoms last for 6 months or more, the diagnosis of a general anxiety disorder is made. It is important to say that anxiety is often closely related to depression and experiencing panic attacks is not uncommon connected issue.

What kind of help?

The most effective treatment of anxiety disorders is a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy (medication), even though each of them can equally be successful depending on the severity of the condition.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is usually the most effective short-term approach that helps people pinpoint their fears, thoughts and related behaviours and modify them. However, there are other approaches like Integrative therapy, Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or hypnotherapy that equally give excellent results.

The role of antidepressant and anxiolytic medication, as well as the role of a psychiatrist on this level should not be underestimated. All use of medication should be supervised by a psychiatrist, as many of them have side effects and can be addictive if not used properly.

Although we all encounter stress or anxiety at some point, it is important to be aware of the impact they are having on our daily functioning, to be alert and able to manage our own feelings, but most importantly, not to be afraid to ask for help, if it all becomes overwhelming.


American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013