October is Mental Health Month

This month we pause to look at stress, anxiety and depression... do you know the difference?

Depression, Anxiety and Stress are terms that are heard frequently in day-to-day conversation, but what’s the difference between them? Feeling low, unmotivated, worried or overwhelmed often feels so similar that it is difficult to pinpoint what we are struggling with. People also use the terms interchangeably, or use the words to describe a completely different set of symptoms from another person.]

This can leave us confused, wondering:

So, in the spirit of October being Anxiety and Depression Awareness Month, we are going to explore the differences between Anxiety, Depression, and Stress and look at top tips to manage them.

Key Statistics

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both. Despite this high prevalence of anxiety and depression, it is estimated more than 50% of people with anxiety and depression symptoms are not seeking support or psychological treatment. Did you know:


Depression is a mental-health illness caused by changes in our brain chemistry that often leads to feelings of hopelessness, low self-worth, low mood, and despair. Symptom severity can range from mild depression (feeling low most of the time), to severe (feeling like life is no longer worth living).

Depressive Disorders

There are a wide range of depressive disorders including manic depressive disorder (depressive as well as manic episodes involving extreme highs), recurrent depressive disorder (having had two or more depressive episodes), and prenatal or postnatal depression (depression occurring during or after pregnancy – this can affect both men and women).

Depressive Disorders

Depression symptoms are wide-ranging and unique to each individual. However, there are common symptoms that can be divided into Thoughts (Mental), Feelings (Emotional), Physical Sensations (Physical), and Behavioursthat make up the experience of depression. 






Definition of Anxiety

Anxiety is a sense of fear, worry, unease or dread that something terrible is going to happen in the context of a perceived threat. Everyone feels a certain level of anxiety in their lives, it is vital for our survival, keeps us safe, and can make us alert in times of stress. However, too much anxiety can begin to overwhelm and even paralyse you.

A little anxiety is fine, but if high anxiety levels persist for a long time, it can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and lowered immunity levels.

Anxiety Disorders

The most common anxiety disorder is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) where people suffer with generally elevated anxiety levels, struggling with often constant worrying and difficult physical symptoms such as nausea and tightness in chests. There are also phobias, panic disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety has both physiological and psychological symptoms that arise in response to a perceived threat or stressor. When you feel anxious, the body releases chemicals into the body such as adrenaline and cortisol to put you on ‘high-alert’, triggering what is known as the ‘fight or flight response’.






Definition of Stress

Stress is our reaction to being placed under pressure by stressful life events or situations, characterised by a sense of feeling overwhelmed. This may be due to feeling you do not have enough resources (e.g. time, money, expertise) to handle the demands placed on you, or having been under pressure for too long.

Stress is a set of physiological and physical changes in the body that takes place in response to threats or difficulties. When facing a threat or difficult situation, your body will go into ‘fight or flight mode’ where your heart might stand racing, breathing rate quickening, muscles tensing, shaking, and hypervigilance. Once the threat or difficulty passes these physical effects usually fade. However, if you are experiencing many stressful situations or prolonged stress, your body can stay in a state of high and you can develop stress related symptoms.

Causes of Stress

Stress is often created by:

It is important to tackle the causes of stress in your life – avoiding problems rather than facing them can make things worse. However, some stressful situations cannot be changed and it may be helpful to focus your energies on how to manage it so it does not impact you as much.

Symptoms of Stress





How is stress different to anxiety?

How is stress different to anxiety?

Although stress and anxiety may seem similar, they are different conditions. Stress is a response to external difficulties, pressures or a threatening situation e.g. work deadline which passes when the stressful event is over. Anxiety, which has no clear cause, is a condition where you feel stressed and anxious even when stressful life events pass, being in a constant state of fear, worry and/or panic.

So what else separates Depression, Anxiety and Stress?

Although there are many overlapping symptoms between conditions, there are some key features that make each issue different:

The Defining Feature:




Can I experience depression, anxiety and stress together?

Definitely. Studies show that half of people diagnosed with anxiety also suffer with depression at the same time. It’s common to experience these conditions together as they are all reactions to difficult life experiences or times of transition.

Top Tips: How to manage depression, anxiety and stress

There are multiple effective things people can do to reduce the impact of depression, anxiety and stress. Despite the differences in symptoms, you can use a lot of the same strategies to tackle all three.

Top Tips for Depression

Before you can start looking out for others, you need to look out for yourself. Therefore, before you ask someone you have noticed by be struggling, R U OK?, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Reduce caffeine intake
2. Do relaxation/meditation/breathing exercises
3. Exercise regularly – yoga or swimming are particularly good for anxiety
4. Don’t avoid situations that make you feel anxious e.g. going outside, challenge yourself to do them anyway
Top Tips for Anxiety
1. Manage external pressures, so stressful situations don’t seem to happen to you so often – e.g.:
2. Develop Emotional Resilience – so you are better at coping with tough situations – e.g.:

Top 10 General Tips to Improve Mental Health & Well-being

Top 10 General Tips to Improve Mental Health/Wellbeing

1. Have a regular sleep routine of 7-9 hours per night
2. Exercise regularly
3. Eating a healthy balanced diet
4. Socialise more
5. Reducing alcohol, drug and/or caffeine intake
6. Schedule regular breaks to relax and unwind
7. Do something you enjoy every day
8. Get creative – colouring, drawing, painting, writing are all fantastic outlets
9. Meditation/Mindfulness – Apps such as Smiling Mind, Headspace or Calm or deep breathing exercises
10. Journaling or talking to someone about how you feel


If you are still struggling after trying these strategies, it is important to seek help. The most effective form of treatment for anxiety and depression is psychotherapy in combination with medication. 

Step 1: Call your EAP to speak to a Psychologist or Counsellor:

Talking therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relationships Counselling and Counselling are found to be effective treatments of depression, anxiety and stress.

Step 2: Speak to your GP.

Medication including antidepressants can be a particularly effective form of treating depression and/or anxiety when taken together with psychological treatment such as Counselling or Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.There are several types available and it is important to consult with your GP about this.

When to seek help immediately?

If you start to feel that your life is not worth living or that you want to harm yourself, it is vital to get support straight away. Call your EAP Acacia Connection on 1300 364 273 or emergency services on 000 if you are at immediate risk.

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com


The Workshop Lab is the Acacia Group workplace well-being training specialist. They deliver the following workshops to help support mental health awareness within the workplace:
These sessions are delivered by experts in this field and can be delivered face-to-face or via webinar.

Format: Face-to-Face or via webinar 
Click here for more information 
P: 1300 390 366 | E: info@theworkshoplab.com | W: www.theworkshoplab.com