Anxiety vs Stress
It is very common for someone to have difficulty differentiating if they are experiencing stress or anxiety in the midst of the emotional moment. From the outside looking in, it is clear where such difficulty can come from; the experience itself. That is because, according to the American Psychological Association and the current diagnostic manual, the two share nearly an identical set of symptoms, with the differentiator being that anxiety is a persistent and excessive worry that is present even in the absence of a stressor. Compared to stress that is not excessive, and expected, in relation to its’ trigger. Now, we would be remiss if we did not add a little disclaimer here, excessive is not meant to stigmatize the presence of worry, or imply that one should not feel anxious or worry. Rather it is purely meant as an attempt to quantify the amount of worry. we can understand if it does not read that way, and we do apologize.
After all, according to the National Institute of Mental Health anxiety disorders are common, with about 31% of adults experiencing an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime. That is the prevalence for a diagnosable disorder, experiencing anxiety, but that might not meet the criteria of a disorder, is even more common!
On some level, this all might feel like an exercise in semantics. To me, this is why our approach to working with our clients is to focus on the client’s experience and allowing diagnosis for added context. For instance, regardless of any underlying diagnosis, we have found that our clients benefit as they grow in the work and expand their emotional experience and emotional vocabulary. What may have been experienced as anxiety previously, they might find is stress which provides them a different perspective allowing them to utilize different strengths and coping skills.