How to Know If It's Anxiety or Just Stress

I say it all the time: "This is giving me anxiety." What I often mean, however, is something slightly different: "This is stressing me out." As someone who has actually been diagnosed with chronic anxiety, I should probably know better than to conflate the two. And yet, I know just in conversing with my friends and co-workers on a daily basis that among my generation, using the words "stress" and "anxiety" interchangeably has become the norm.

While it might seem like a matter of semantics, in reality, it's a problematic habit. For one thing, using "anxiety" as a replacement term for "stress" diminishes the very real symptoms that those who suffer from anxiety have to negotiate on a daily basis. For another, it might prevent someone who has undiagnosed anxiety from seeking the correct kind of treatment because they can't differentiate those symptoms from that of regular, day-to-day stress.

"Both stress and anxiety can bedevil anyone's psychological and physical health," says Heather Silvestri, PhD, a New York City–based psychologist. "However, while often related, they are distinct phenomena." Below, she helps us clear up the difference between the two—and how to manage both.