The connection between anxiety and stress

By Gail Belsky

At a glance

  • Stress is a response to a challenge. It’s usually temporary.

  • Ongoing stress can lead to anxiety.

  • There are simple ways to help with stress and anxiety.

Many people think of stress and anxiety as being the same thing. But while they’re closely related, these strong feelings are different. 

Stress is a natural response to a challenge. Changes in brain chemistry make our heart pump faster and our palms sweat as we get ready to act. We might feel nervous, angry, and frustrated. 

But stress can also have a positive effect. It can “pump up” a person to meet a challenge.

Anxiety is a reaction to stress. It happens when people don’t think they can handle the challenge that’s putting pressure on them. That lack of control makes them feel worried and afraid. 

Stress is often temporary. But when people feel it for an extended period of time, they may have what’s called chronic stress. And that can lead to anxiety. 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jerome Schultz, PhD is a clinical neuropsychologist and lecturer in the Harvard Medical School Department of Child Psychiatry.