Stress vs. Anxiety: What’s The Difference?

The symptoms of stress and anxiety are often similar, but they result from different causes. Generally, stress is triggered by external factors, while anxiety is characterized by excessive worry and fear. [i]

Both stress and anxiety are considered normal occurrences and are usually nothing to worry about when their symptoms are mild. However, treatment should be sought out immediately if either becomes excessive.

For over 40 years, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies like neurofeedback to help patients reduce symptoms of a number of disorders, including ADHD, Autism, insomnia, PTSD, stress, anxiety, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Drake Institute can help you overcome symptoms of stress or anxiety, call us today at 800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form.

What Is A Stress Disorder?

Stress is a normal part of everyday life. Essentially, it is how our bodies respond to challenges or changes. Stress can come from almost anywhere: work, family, social life, change, or events like divorce or death.

When there is too much stress, the body may begin to experience problematic physiological symptoms, leading us to become more susceptible to illness or disease. Without adequate coping mechanisms, excessive stress can affect everything from sleep habits to your immune system to your blood pressure.

Stress management techniques can help reduce stress reactions, but in cases of severe or prolonged stress, more advanced therapies, like biofeedback and neurofeedback, may be needed.

Symptoms Of A Stress-Related Disorder

Stress arises when our brains interpret a trigger as a life-or-death threat and sends the body into fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, the body receives signals to prepare for action—even if the threat isn’t real. These signals can produce the following symptoms:

  • Aches & Pains
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Digestive Issues

Types Of Stress

There are three primary types of stress: Acute, Episodic Acute, and Chronic. These types of stress differ in how they present and how long they last. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and all of them should be treated immediately to prevent the development of a stress-related disorder. [ii]

Acute Stress

Acute stress is an immediate reaction to a stressful event. This type of stress comes on quickly but doesn’t usually last very long. An unexpected life change or crisis can bring about an acute stress response.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic acute stress is when a person regularly experiences acute stress. Those who have this type of stress may often feel overwhelmed or easily annoyed by small things..

Chronic Stress

A person with chronic stress can feel constantly overwhelmed by the pressures of life. This type of stress can cause a person to withdraw from social situations and can quickly lead to illness if left untreated. It can also lead to high blood pressure, digestive problems, insomnia, or depression.

What Are Some Common Stress-Related Disorders?

If stress is not managed properly, it can become a stress-related disorder. These disorders are accompanied by various symptoms that are disruptive to a high quality of life. Some of the most common stress-related disorders are:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
  • Adjustment Disorder
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Muscle Tension Headaches
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Insomnia
  • Panic Attacks

What Causes A Stress Disorder To Develop?

Stress disorders often develop when faced with difficult, frustrating, or tense situations and events, particularly when you feel you don’t have control. The stress can become overwhelming and affect your everyday life. Divorce, death, moving, and work-related stress are all factors that could contribute to the development of a stress disorder.

Below are the most common causes of stress disorder:

  • Being Under Lots Of Pressure
  • Big Life Changes
  • Lack Of Control
  • Overwhelmed With Responsibilities
  • Working Long Hours
  • Loss Of Job
  • Divorce
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Traumatic Experiences at Any Time

What is Anxiety Disorder

According to the DSM-V, anxiety disorders “share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances.”

Anxiety and fear are normal emotions and can even be helpful in living a safe life. However, fear and worry that is excessive, out of proportion with the situation, or disruptive can lead to an anxiety disorder that negatively affects day-to-day living.

Anxiety is a psychophysiological disorder. That means that though anxiety originates in the brain, the body goes through physical symptoms, like elevated heart rate, insomnia, digestive issues, and more. [iii]

Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders

When the brain interprets something as a threat, it signals the body to prepare to fight or flee from the danger - even if it isn’t real. These signals cause physical changes within the body, like increased heart rate and adrenaline. This energy results in a variety of symptoms like the following:

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Digestive dysfunction
  • Easily fatigued
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tensions in the neck and shoulder
  • Somatic symptoms (sweating, nausea, diarrhea)
  • Frequent urination
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching)
  • Headaches
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Palpitations (heart pounding)
  • Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Trembling

Anxiety Symptoms in Adults

  • Disturbed sleep (falling or staying asleep)
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on edge
  • Emotional over-reactivity
  • Easily fatigued
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Debilitating fear
  • Excessive worrying
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Social avoidance
  • Low self-image
  • Unrelieved or chronic self-doubt
  • Inner restlessness
  • Phobias
  • Substance abuse (self-medicating symptoms)

Anxiety Symptoms in Children

  • Stomach aches
  • Chronic indigestion
  • Clinging behavior
  • Fear of separation from parents
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Temper tantrums
  • Fear and avoidance of social situations
  • Headaches
  • Fear of sleeping alone
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Eating disorders or craving junk food

What Causes Anxiety?

While the exact causes of anxiety are not always clear, anxiety tends to develop as a response to environmental stressors, including prior traumatic experiences, relationship problems, family issues, work difficulties, financial concerns, and a wide variety of other stressful experiences.[iv]

Often, the brain interprets stressful events like giving a speech, taking a test at school, or receiving a performance review at work as a threat and sends fight or flight signals to the body to prepare it for action, resulting in excess energy and nervousness. In some cases, there is no identifiable trigger causing the anxiety.

Let’s say that you are driving to the airport to pick up a friend and suddenly there is bumper-to-bumper traffic. The thought goes through your mind that you’re going to be late, causing your heart rate to increase with palpitations, increased muscle tension, etc. The emotional interpretation of being late triggers the fight or flight response, and you’re now being dominated by anxiety.

In short, anxiety disorders occur when the anxiety response occurs frequently or is overwhelming.

What Are The Differences Between Stress & Anxiety?

When it comes to stress vs. anxiety, they share a few similar symptoms, like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, increased muscle tensions, and digestive issues. However, there are a few key differences between stress and anxiety.

The causes of stress and anxiety are different. Stress is a psycho-physiologic response to an identifiable trigger, while anxiety may not always have a recognized threat. Additionally, stress can be a short-term response, while anxiety may persist.

Anxiety is typically characterized specifically by worry, fear, and dread. These feelings can result in racing thoughts, excessive sweating, increased muscle tension, difficulty falling asleep, and a general sense of nervousness. Whereas stress can share some of the same symptoms that occur with anxiety, it also may include excessive anger and feelings of being threatened or out of control.

So are stress and anxiety the same thing? Not exactly, but they do overlap. One can have anxiety with stress or anxiety without external stressors.

Can Stress Cause Anxiety?

Stress can cause anxiety, especially if it is overwhelming or chronic or if your stress persists and you don’t have sufficient coping techniques to deal with it.

There is also a psychological reason for how stress can cause anxiety. During prolonged stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline build up in the body. These stress hormones in large amounts can cause brain dysregulation and can lead to anxiety or anxiety disorders.

How The Drake Institute Treats Stress & Anxiety

The Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies like qEEG brain mapping and neurofeedback to treat various medical conditions, including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, depression, stress, and anxiety for over 40 years.

Our non-drug, non-invasive treatment protocols can help patients learn the self-regulatory techniques needed to relieve their stress and anxiety-related symptoms and achieve a higher quality of life.

Below are the treatment technologies we use to help our patients achieve results:


Stress testing with biofeedback instrumentation can identify any excessive levels of physiologic tension resulting from anxiety or stress. To relieve anxiety and stress-related symptoms, the Drake Institute uses multiple treatment technologies, such as:

  • EMG (Electromyographic) Biofeedback to reduce muscle tension
  • Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback
  • GSR (Galvanic skin response) Biofeedback
  • Hand Warming Biofeedback for sympathetic nervous system relaxation
  • EEG Biofeedback (Neurofeedback) with alpha and theta brainwave training

Brain Mapping

Brain mapping is the first step in treating stress and anxiety. 19 sensors are placed around the patient’s scalp in predetermined locations. These sensors then measure and record the brainwave activity from those locations. Then, the recordings of this activity are sent through an FDA-registered normative reference database of same-age, asymptomatic individuals for comparison.

By comparing our patients’ results to the norm, we are able to locate areas or networks of the brain that are dysregulated and which could be contributing to symptoms of stress and anxiety.


After the brain has been mapped, our trained staff can create a customized treatment protocol to address the specific areas of dysregulation.

How does it work?

First, sensors are once again placed on the patient’s scalp to display real-time brain wave activity on a screen in an easy-to-understand format.

During neurofeedback training, the patient learns techniques to improve their brain activity and guide it towards healthier and more appropriately functional patterns to reduce symptoms.


In some cases, patients may need extra help to improve brain functioning to reduce symptoms. During neuromodulation, we use neurostimulation technology to gently guide the brain towards desired, more functionally appropriate brainwave patterns.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but when they become excessive or disruptive it’s time to look into treatment options.

If you or someone you know is dealing with chronic stress or an anxiety disorder, contact the Drake Institute by calling us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form.






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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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