Stress v. Anxiety: Understanding the Difference

It’s important to understand the difference between stress and anxiety—no matter who you are. Both can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. Everything from your sleep patterns, to your appetite, to your memory can be affected. (1)

Stress and anxiety are intertwined, and mutually reinforcing. (2) Stress can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause stress. However, while stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, they are two distinct things.

As far as obstacles go, they’re both pretty major. In coaching, we can support our clients better in general if we understand the nuances between the two.

So, how do stress and anxiety differ? Here’s a quick overview:


Stress is a normal response to a demand, pressure, or a challenging situation that makes you feel threatened or anxious. It’s your body’s way of preparing you to deal with a challenge.

When you’re stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure may increase, and you may breathe faster. These are all part of the normal stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response.

In small doses, stress can be good for you. It can help you stay alert and motivated. But when it’s constant or overwhelming, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can lead to physical health problems. It can also affect mental health, increasing anxiety and depression.

Stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short-term, such as a deadline at work, or long-term, such as caring for a sick family member.


Anxiety, on the other hand, is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life.

However, it can become a problem when it’s constant and interferes with daily life.

Some people may experience anxiety that is out of proportion to a situation. In other words, they may feel very anxious about a situation that the majority of people would not find stressful.

While stress is a response to a trigger, anxiety often exists in the absence of a trigger. The threat causing the anxiety may be imaginary. This can be a product of past experiences, brain chemistry, or even genetics.

Anxiety can also be a side effect of stress. When you’re constantly under stress, your body may become less able to manage it. At the same time, even moderate anxiety can amplify the perception of stress. (3)

Anxiety v. Stress as it Relates to Coaching

While there’s a fine line between stress and anxiety, it’s important to understand the relationship and differences between the two. This can help you better manage your personal stress and anxiety, and improve your overall health and wellbeing. And as a professional coach, it will enable you to better support your clients.

In coaching, we work together with our clients to identify stressors and pain points and develop action plans to better manage them. This might include stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, regular exercise, and healthy eating, for example.

While anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional, as a coach, you can play an important role in supporting your clients. So, in coaching, we might also explore triggers and help our clients develop coping mechanisms to help them deal with anxiety.

Coaching can help uncover the root causes of anxiety, and develop strategies to manage it. This might involve, for example, learning how to better deal with worry and stress, creating a support system, increasing activity levels, and practicing self-care and mindfulness.

It’s important to note that anxiety can manifest itself as the avoidance of certain situations or activities, including making decisions. This can prevent your clients from achieving important goals, or feeling fulfilled or satisfied in their lives.

By asking the right questions, we can help our clients identify counterproductive behaviors and work with them to find more helpful ways of dealing with stress and anxiety.

If you think your client may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, it’s important to encourage them to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. High anxiety may be a sign of other disorders, such as PTSD or GAD.

While you can’t diagnose or treat their disorder, you can provide them with much-needed support and guidance, and be a sounding board for them as they navigate their way through life’s challenges.

Understanding the differences between similar emotions that are frequently mislabeled/misinterpreted such as shame v. guilt,, joy v. happiness, and stress v. anxiety are important for improving self-awareness. (4)

In these times of burnout, chronic stress, and anxiety, it’s more important than ever to understand the difference between stress and anxiety and how they can impact our lives. (5) By working together with our clients to identify stressors and develop action plans to better manage them, we can help them lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

And that’s what coaching is all about—guiding and empowering our clients to make positive, transformative changes in their lives.


  1. Lukasik KM, Waris O, Soveri A, Lehtonen M, Laine M. The Relationship of Anxiety and Stress With Working Memory Performance in a Large Non-depressed Sample. Front Psychol. 2019 Jan 23;10:4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00004. PMID: 30728790; PMCID: PMC6351483.
  2. Daviu N, Bruchas MR, Moghaddam B, Sandi C, Beyeler A. Neurobiological links between stress and anxiety. Neurobiol Stress. 2019 Aug 13;11:100191. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2019.100191. PMID: 31467945; PMCID: PMC6712367.
  3. Racic M, Todorovic R, Ivkovic N, Masic S, Joksimovic B, Kulic M. Self- Perceived Stress in Relation to Anxiety, Depression and Health-related Quality of Life among Health Professions Students: A Cross-sectional Study from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Zdr Varst. 2017 Oct 9;56(4):251-259. doi: 10.1515/sjph-2017-0034. PMID: 29062400; PMCID: PMC5639815.
  4. McKendry, J. (2021, February 3). The Power of Emotional Intelligence. Four Streams Coaching. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from
  5. Westfall, C. (2021, August 25). Battling burnout, anxiety, and building productivity: Do you need coaching or therapy? Forbes. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from