In today’s fast-paced world, stress and anxiety are common experiences for many people. While they overlap and are closely linked, it can be helpful to be able to tell them apart. To gain insight on our mental well-being, it’s important to:

  • know the difference between stress and anxiety,
  • recognize their impacts, and
  • understand effective coping strategies for both.

Defining Stress and Anxiety

Stress is the body’s response to external pressures or demands, known as stressors. These can range from everyday challenges like work deadlines and traffic jams to significant life events such as moving house or the loss of a loved one. Stress can be acute, lasting for a short duration, or chronic, persisting over a longer period. It triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to face the perceived threat.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is characterized by persistent, excessive worry and fear about everyday situations, even in the absence of an immediate stressor. It often involves an ongoing sense of dread or apprehension. Anxiety can manifest as a normal reaction to stress, but when it becomes chronic and disproportionate to the situation, it may develop into an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder.

The Impact of Stress and Anxiety

Physical Health

Both stress and anxiety can have significant effects on physical health.

Chronic stress can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, and a weakened immune system.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, dizziness, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal issues. Over time, the constant state of alertness associated with anxiety can take a toll on the body.

Mental Health

The mental health impacts of stress and anxiety are profound.

Chronic stress can contribute to depression, burnout, and other mental health disorders.

Anxiety can lead to constant worry, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Severe anxiety can result in panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of intense fear that can be debilitating.

Behavioural Changes

Stress and anxiety can alter behaviour. People may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, alcohol or drug use, and social withdrawal. These behaviours can exacerbate the problems and lead to a cycle of stress and anxiety.


Both stress and anxiety can strain relationships. Irritability, mood swings, and withdrawal can affect interactions with family, friends, and colleagues. Misunderstandings and conflicts may arise, further increasing stress and anxiety levels.

Effective Coping Strategies for Stress and Anxiety

Coping strategies are essential tools in managing stress and anxiety, providing both immediate relief and long-term benefits. By incorporating effective strategies, individuals can better navigate stress and anxiety and develop a strong foundation for emotional well-being. Here are some effective approaches:

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Practices such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. These techniques encourage a focus on the present moment, helping to break the cycle of worry and stress.

Regular Physical Activity

Exercise is a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week to experience its benefits.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol can significantly influence how the body and mind handle stress and anxiety. Healthy lifestyle habits create a strong foundation for overall well-being.

Seeking Support

Talking to friends, family, or a mental health professional can provide emotional support and different perspectives on stressors. Social connections are crucial for mental health and can offer comfort and guidance.

Time Management

Effective time management can prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. Prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and take breaks to avoid burnout.

Professional Help

If stress or anxiety becomes overwhelming, seeking professional help is important. Therapists and counsellors can provide tailored strategies and support. Medication can be explored with your GP if that option feels right for you.

While it is normal to experience stress and anxiety at times, chronic and severe forms should be addressed to prevent long-term consequences. By taking proactive steps to manage stress and anxiety, we can lead healthier, more balanced lives. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and taking care of your mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health.

If you are experiencing stress or anxiety, request a consultation with one of our Steadfast Counsellors.

We offer in-person counselling sessions for couples, individuals and families in New Westminster, Langley, Vancouver and North Vancouver and are available for online counselling sessions.