What is the difference between anxiety and stress?

The differentiation between anxiety and stress is a very critical part of treatment. Stress is from environment and most people feel overwhelmed in a stressful situation, such as taking exam, getting fired, or social isolation during pandemic. However, when the severity of the anxiety or the presence of the anxiety is out -of-proportion to the situation, it is considered anxiety disorder.

Anxiety symptoms are not enemies. Instead, anxiety is functions as a survival signal. Flight-or-flight response is ingrained in our emotional brain and body to react to dangerous situation. Therefore, emotional brain often overrides the rational brain when it comes to survival. Human brains learn efficiently with a cost to misinterpret safe situations as threats. Sometimes, those irrational fear can limit a person’s ability to function.

In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists first help clients to practice to identify thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental present way. This process help differentiating stress and anxiety. CBT offers skill set to cope with stress, such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercise, progressive muscle relaxation and many other tools. When anxiety is out-of-tune with reality, recalliberation of the feelings is important in the session. CBT for anxiety is in general exposure-based. Through the therapeutic process, clients learn how to conquer anxiety.