By: Grace Gufler


As a society, our awareness of the prevalence of anxiety has increased. Anxiety has become a topic that has flooded our social media accounts, and the recognition of the seriousness of anxiety has comforted many. As a result, we are exposed to numerous articles, videos and discussion boards on the topic of anxiety. This blog post will help you be able to distinguish between clinical anxiety and feelings of stress or worry. The biggest difference between clinical anxiety and stress is found in the intensity, frequency and impact.



Both stress and anxiety can feel consuming and overwhelming. Anxiety, however, feels much less manageable than stress. A person with clinical anxiety may feel controlled by their anxiety and have difficulty managing symptoms. Additionally, clinical anxiety corresponds with physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can include racing heart, trouble breathing, sweating palms, shaking hands, feeling lightheaded, restlessness, nausea, difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. 


Stress is, typically, caused by situational or environmental factors. In the other words, we can (usually) pinpoint the cause or root of our stress. Stress occurs, for example, when we are looking for a new job, having trouble in our relationships or have a heavy workload. Unlike stress, clinical anxiety can be more generalized and is influenced by and impacts a variety of different situations and events. The anxious thoughts and worries a person with clinical anxiety experiences, is often unrealistic and unlikely to occur. For example, a person with clinical anxiety may imagine worst-case scenarios that have little to no probability of occurring. Additionally, clinical anxiety persists for a longer period of time than stress. Clinical anxiety is excessive feelings of worry experienced during most days of the week and will persist over a long period of time (more than 6 months to receive a diagnosis). 


Clinical anxiety can be very debilitating and negatively impacts at least one domain of life. Furthermore, clinical anxiety prevents a person from participating in and enjoying basic life experiences. For example, it can impact our work performance, social activity, mood, self-esteem, relationships and health. The intensity of clinical anxiety is markedly different from feelings of stress or worry.


Clinical anxiety and stress have many things in common. It is important to note that feelings of intense stress can be difficult to manage and have potential negative consequences in our life; similar to anxiety. Despite this, the impact of clinical anxiety is still out of proportion to that of stress, but their similarities can make it difficult to discern between the two. If you are unsure if you are experiencing clinical anxiety or stress, reflect on the intensity, frequency and impact of your experiences. For both stress and clinical anxiety, it can helpful to see a therapist for guidance on how to manage your symptoms and some effective coping skills.