Stress and anxiety are closely related issues, and both can take a toll on your mental and physical health. But how can you tell when you’re experiencing stress and when you might need to seek help for an anxiety disorder? Because stress and anxiety are so closely related and produce such similar symptoms, it can be tricky to tell the difference between them. A good rule of thumb to determine whether what you’re experiencing qualifies as stress or an anxiety disorder is to look at what is causing negative emotions in your life.

Stress is generally caused by external factors—homework piling up, financial difficulties, trouble at work, etc. It’s the natural response of the body to a perceived threat, and can be expected to dissipate once the problem is resolved. If you can identify a specific reason for your symptoms, the likelihood is that you’re dealing with stress.

Anxiety, on the other hand, has different root causes. Although it can be triggered by stress, the worries and fears caused by anxiety are often not associated with an actual threat and may be exaggerated beyond what is likely to happen. Because anxiety isn’t caused by external factors, it doesn’t go away when your circumstances change. If you have feelings of dread or apprehension that won’t go away and don’t have an identifiable cause, it may be a signal that you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Stress and anxiety disorders, while similar in many ways, are different, but both can be hard to deal with. The good news is that they are both very susceptible to treatment. If you can’t determine if you have stress or an anxiety disorder, or if negative emotions are making it difficult for you to function in day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to see a professional. They can help you to tell the difference between stress and an anxiety disorder, and suggest a course of treatment that can put your life back on track.