Stress and Anxiety: The Facts

Common mental disorders are increasing worldwide. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50%, from 416 million to 615 million (WHO). Close to 10% of the world’s population is affected, and mental disorders account for 30% of the global non-fatal disease burden.

What is stress?

Stress is a common human emotion and it is completely natural for us to experience stressful periods at certain points in our lives. Stress is an expected part of life in Singapore, particularly for those working in executive roles with regular travel, deadlines and high levels of responsibility.

Stress serves a protective function in our evolutionary history by mediating the ‘flight or fight’ response to protect us from danger. Being stressed heightens our awareness and focus and prepares the body to respond to a threat. What humans have not evolved very well to cope with is persistent stress. When we are exposed to even low level stress on a day-to-day basis, problems can arise.

Stress vs anxiety

Anxiety frequently occurs in people who have been chronically stressed, however in many it can happen with no obvious trigger. One of the key differences between stress and anxiety is that most people can clearly recognize why they feel stressed. In anxiety the focus shifts away from the trigger/situation and onto the feelings and emotions being experienced. You can start to feel anxious about feeling anxious.

Symptoms of anxiety

As it becomes more severe, anxiety can lead to physical symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness, agitation, anger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low mood/depression
  • Palpitations, dry mouth, nausea, chest pains
  • Panic attacks

Anxiety related disorders

These disorders include the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable worrying. Sometimes people worry about bad things happening to them or their loved ones, and at other times they may not be able to identify any source of worry.
  • Panic disorder is a condition that causes panic attacks, which are moments of extreme fear accompanied by a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and a fear of impending doom.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety as the result of a traumatic experience.
  • Social phobia is a condition that causes intense feelings of anxiety in situations that involve interacting with others.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain ritual actions.

When to seek help

If you feel that you are experiencing issues in coping with feelings of stress and anxiety, remember that help is available. Come and speak to your GP and we can help you find ways to feel better. This can be anything from exercise, meditation and relaxation techniques, referral for psychological therapy and occasionally medication. It is important to remember that most people will experience symptoms of anxiety at some point in their life and most will make a complete recovery. The key is recognizing the problem, sharing your feelings and seeking help before things get worse.


  • More than 8 million people in the UK suffer some sort of anxiety disorder with women and people under 35 being most affected. (University of Cambridge Report 2016)
  • In Singapore, 76% of students reported feeling very anxious for a test even if they were well prepared, compared with the global average of 55%.(OECD 2017)

If you would like to discuss with a DR, please visit or call 6733 4440.

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