Stress and Anxiety | Difference, Signs and Treatments

Last Update: June 8th, 2020    Author: Rachel Green and Wendy Rhodes


Stress and anxiety are a natural part of life. This is how our body responds as part of the fight-or-flight response to a perceived harmful event, threat or danger.

However, a staggering 40 million Americans report that they struggle with feelings of anxiety on a regular basis. Factors such as relationships, finances, work, safety, and the political climate contribute to feelings of anxiety among Americans.

These statistics have some professionals referring to this wave as an anxiety epidemic that transcends gender and socioeconomic barriers with a profound effect on Americans’ overall health.

Stress is even more common. One-third of Americans are living with extreme stress and nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that their stress has increased over the past five years (source).

Credibility is extremely important to us. See all research and references used in this article below.

What are Stress and Anxiety?

In a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.

There are various types, but in general, stresses can be categorized as external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

It is important to distinguish between the natural, normal and occasional feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder that needs medical attention.

How to Tell the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety share many of their symptoms, therefore it can be difficult to tell the difference between them.

There may be a difference between the cause and origin of the two as well. Stress tends to be a short term effect and happens in response to a recognized threat.

Anxiety on the other hand may linger and does not necessarily have an identifiable trigger.

Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety

Stress Symptoms

When someone is under threat, danger, or feels like being so, their body releases stress hormones. These cause the heart to beat faster, among other things. Breath rate and blood pressure increase. All for the purpose of alertness, readiness to deal with those dangers.

Let’s see a non-comprehensive list of common stress symptoms:

  • rapid heart rate
  • faster breathing
  • muscle tension
  • sweaty palms or feet
  • headache
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness or fainting
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • sleeping problems
  • poor concentration
  • loss of sexual drive
  • loss of appetite
On top of these typical symptoms, more extreme or lengthy stressful periods may lead to, or may be in connection with several physical or emotional disorders, such as depression, obesity, anxiety, heart attacks, and others.

Anxiety Symptoms

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • nervousness
  • hyperventilation or rapid breathing
  • sense of danger or panic
  • poor concentration
  • irrational anger
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea or constipation
  • tenseness
  • tiredness
  • sleeping problems

Both stress and anxiety can cause mental or emotional symptoms in addition to physical ones.

Types of Stress and Anxiety

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are two types of stress: acute and chronic.

Acute stress is short-term and more common.

Chronic stress develops over a long period and is more dangerous and harmful. Chronic stress makes it difficult for the body to return to normal, mostly due to the disturbed levels of stress hormones. A constant state of stress may lead to serious illnesses and contribute to everyday problems and can affect everyday life.

Anxiety, as mentioned earlier, is normal in certain situations and life events. When the duration or severity of anxiety goes beyond natural anxiety, it can reach the stage of a disorder, and be called anxiety disorder.

Several types of anxiety disorders exist, just to name a few:

  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • anxiety disorder due to a medical condition
  • agoraphobia (fear of places or situations)
  • panic disorder
  • separation anxiety disorder
  • social anxiety disorder

What Causes Stress and Anxiety?

Most people experience stress and anxiety on a regular basis. They come and go, usually around important life events.

People also react differently to situations. Some might be stressful for one, while not causing any effect to others. Even previous experiences can affect how people react to the same stress event.

The event or external stimulus causing stress is called a stressor.

Common causes of stress and anxiety:
  • work-related problems, starting a new job
  • illness or injury
  • family issues
  • death in the community or family
  • marriage, relationships
  • moving
  • commuting
  • crime
  • parenting
  • traumatic events

Treatment and Management of Stress and Anxiety

There are several ways people can treat and manage stress and anxiety.

Usually, doctors will not prescribe medications for coping with stress, unless they are treating an underlying illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder (source).

Stress treatment typically includes some form of self-help, like meditation, relaxation techniques, change of habits or certain circumstances. For example, quitting a highly stressful job may and should not feel like a failure, but a promise for a better future.

Many Americans are looking for effective, natural ways to reduce stress and, thereby, improve their overall sense of well-being.


Talking about problems and worries, finding and naming the stressors can help. The partner can be a friend, a family member, a colleague, a coach or a professional.

Having a life coach or partner who can guide you through the difficulties in life may be an additional help fighting stress and anxiety.


Exercise is generally accepted as beneficial, especially when done regularly and in moderation.


Like sleep, a balanced diet can also help manage anxiety symptoms naturally. Foods rich in magnesium (leafy green vegetables), zinc, and probiotics have been shown to lower anxiety in adults.

Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption is also helpful managing stress and anxiety.

Healthy eating combined with good sleep habits can have drastic results in combating anxiety.

Quality Sleep

People who get less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis are more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety, among various other health issues. There are many ways of promoting good sleep, starting with losing bad practices before going to bed to using sleeping aids like sensory or weighted products.

Weighted Blankets

The popularity of weighted blankets has soared over the past year with reports that they can help reduce the symptoms and effects of stress and anxiety by using the science of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP).

Deep Touch Pressure can be an effective way to naturally stabilize the nervous system. Since stress and anxiety are rooted in instability, DTP can be implemented through the use of weighted blankets, weighted vests, and compression clothing.

Before examining the different products available for DTP therapy, let’s take a look at what may cause anxiety levels to rise in the body and how DTP can help.

Managing Stress and Anxiety

Managing the source is often the most effective way of handling stress or anxiety. Removing the stressors from life is difficult or close to impossible sometimes.

Altering how someone views or handles a stressful event can have an impact on current and future stress levels.

Learning alternative ways of coping is also important. A counselor or psychotherapist can certainly help with techniques and therapies for further improvement in someone’s daily life.

Further Information about Stress Hormones

Cortisol and Stress

Cortisol is sometimes called “the stress hormone” which is secreted by the adrenal glands. While it performs many functions in the body, it also kicks production into high gear during stressful situations.

Experiencing prolonged stress can keep cortisol levels higher than they should be, which can damage tissue and cause weight gain, mood swings, and insomnia.

A healthy diet, exercise, and sleep are some of the natural ways to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol levels naturally lower themselves during sound sleep cycles.

However, because stress can cause insomnia (and because sleep is needed to reduce cortisol and stress) many people find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia.

This is where DTP comes in. Deep Touch Pressure can quiet the nervous system by lowering cortisol, relaxing muscles, and increasing circulation. All of these advantages promote a sense of calm and help individuals fall asleep.

Weighted blankets and vests can be a great way to naturally implement the tactile sensory technique of DTP to treat anxiety.

In the same way that a hug can comfort a scared child and swaddling can soothe a crying baby, weighted blankets, bests, compression clothing can also help adults naturally manage their stress and anxiety.


Not only can weighted blankets reduce cortisol production, they can also promote the production of serotonin. Dubbed “the happy hormone”, serotonin transmits messages between nerves and brings feelings of general well-being and happiness.

Serotonin also makes melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating the sleep/wake cycle.

When to Talk With a Doctor

Sometimes, chronic stress and anxiety require medical intervention. If stress or anxiety has triggered feelings of depression that persist or continue to get worse, always seek help from a medical professional. Clinical depression requires a medical diagnosis.

Weighted blankets and other DTP techniques can be used in conjunction with professional treatment, but not as a substitute for medical help when dealing with clinical depression.


There are multiple benefits that weighted stress or calming blankets can provide, both physically and emotionally. Lowering blood pressure and heart rate, increasing circulation, and improving sleep patterns can all help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.

While some severe cases of anxiety require medical intervention, natural methods can also help manage stress and anxiety.

Weighted blankets and Deep Touch Pressure are great ways to treat anxiety naturally. Consider the benefits of DTP and curl up under a weighted blanket for an anxiety-free night.

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