what is stress what is anxiety

People often wonder about the difference between anxiety and stress and if you use the same strategies to treat both concerns. Cognitive therapist generally see the two problems as separate and we have different strategies that work for anxiety and stress. 

Dr. Beck (who developed cognitive therapy) often uses this model to explain anxiety (and you might have seen me talk about it in the first Quiet Mind Video in the online class page):

Anxiety = Overestimation of Danger + Underestimation of Coping

With anxiety we see situations as more dangerous than they really are and feel that we can't handle things if they do happen. This is contrast to fear which is the accurate estimation of danger and coping! If I bump into a bear on a hiking trail, I would be accurate in estimating that the bear is dangerous and that I would have trouble coping if it attacked. 

Stress on the other hand was defined by Hans Selye as the body's response to any demand for change. In later years, he was quoted as saying that, "Everybody knows what stress is but doesn't really know."

What became clear in stress research is that your perception of a situation determined whether it was stressful. Now those of us who are interested in helping people cope with stress often use the following model of stress:

Stress = Anything you wish was different

Most situations that cause anxiety are also stressful (because who wants to be anxious) but not all stressful situations cause anxiety. For example, sitting through a boring meeting or class may not cause anxiety but could be stressful if you are itching to get out of there. 

What helps anxiety is facing your fears (using gentle baby steps) and showing your brain that you can cope and there is nothing to worry about.

What helps stress is problem solving, having more fun and taking things you don't like off of your plate. 

What works for bears (and other real dangers) is avoidance and carrying bear spray just in case!

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but understanding these models can help you understand why your psychologist is asking you to take certain steps to reduce your anxiety and stress.