anxiety or stress

Stress or anxiety?

Stress or anxiety
Am I anxious or stressed?

by Lisa Wood

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at one time or another. The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease or concern which can occur in the absence of a threatening situation. It becomes a problem when it starts to impact the way you would normally perform or cope with ordinary tasks. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average 1 in 4 people (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men) will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. (ABS (2008) National Survey of Mental Health and Well Being: Summary of Results 2007 Cat no. (4326.0) Canberra ABS)

How do we know we are anxious?

Our bodies give us

  • physical clues such as rapid heartbeat, quick breathing, digestive upset, increased sweating, headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, restlessness
  • cognitive clues such as difficulty remembering things, overthinking, constant worrying, catastrophising
  • behavioural clues such as avoiding situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life

The good news is that we can do lots of things to deal with both anxiety and stress.

Here are 4 things we can do:

Slow breathing
When you’re anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. Try deliberately slowing down your breathing. Count to four as you breathe in slowly, hold your breath for 4, then count to four as you breathe out slowly.

Look around and note 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This will help to bring focus back to the present moment by engaging the senses and occupying our minds with neutral thoughts.

Progressive muscle relaxation
Find a quiet location. Close your eyes and slowly tense and then relax each of your muscle groups from your toes to your head. Hold the tension for three seconds and then release quickly. This can help reduce the feelings of muscle tension that often comes with anxiety.

Talk to someone
Talking to a trusted friend, family member, GP or mental health professional can be the first step in taking charge of anxiety.


Feel free to contact us if you’d like to find a health professional to help you with feelings of anxiety.