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Stress & Anxiety: Annoying Relatives

When clients come to see me, they often are struggling with anxiety. As we know, anxiety is becoming increasingly prevalent and kids can begin exhibiting symptoms from young ages. It doesn’t come as a surprise when parents have concerns about their kid’s anxious feelings and behavior.

While experiencing anxiety is becoming more typical, I have realized that clients can sometimes fixate strictly on anxiety. By doing this, they then struggle to distinguish underlying and interconnected feelings, like nervousness, worry and uneasiness. Of all the feelings connected to anxiety, stress is its closest relative. I have found it interesting to explore those differences with clients and have realized there are some holes in understanding each as well as how they interact with each other.

Let’s get into it!

Let’s talk about the definitions of each. Stress is a body’s response to a perceived threat or challenge, triggering the fight-or-flight-or-freeze response. More simply, when your brain perceives a threat, it begins to panic, which then communicates to your body, which then begins to panic as well.

Anxiety is a more persistent and often irrational feeling of fear or apprehension. This means that our minds are constantly feeling some level of panic, even when there may not be a perceived threat. The word irrational explains this – our mind finds just about anything to worry about. This creates a longer-term difficulty with panic and worry.

With those definitions in mind, let’s talk about how these two interact with each other.

Stress is most often caused by external triggers: schoolwork, extracurricular activities, overload at work, increased demands at home. We are flooded with panic, which can cause increased heart rate, quickened breathing, sweating and racing thoughts.

Anxiety is most caused by internal workings: fear of the future, apprehension about an upcoming presentation, worry about being separated from our families, panic about being in a social situation. Anxiety sits in the back of our minds waiting for a moment to rear its head. It can also cause increased heart rate, quickened breathing, sweating and racing thoughts.

With the differences established, we can point out that stress often sparks (and prolongs) anxiety. When we experience several stressors at once or exposure to stressors in quick succession, it gives anxiety free reign to grow and become louder. Especially if we are unable to address the stress in a healthy and effective way, anxiety will continue to chew on the stress we experience.

The reason I wanted to discuss this topic is because I realize more and more that clients struggle to address either or both of these feelings, which then can lead to more difficulties. If we are able to recognize which feeling is which, it can help us to determine which coping skills to use to address them.

The best way to approach these feelings, as they come, is to try to take a moment to get to the bottom of them. Ask your brain a couple questions.

  • What was I doing as these feelings began?

  • What was I thinking about before this feeling started?

  • Is the thing I am panicking about actually within my control?

  • Is there something I can do to manage these feelings?

By differentiating between these feelings, we are able to address them as effectively as possible. If you or your kid are continue to struggle with these emotions, feel free to reach out!

I (Gillian) am the owner of Tavernier Therapy Group. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Provider and a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider. I work with teenagers who struggle to connect with their parents and am currently accepting clients! Take a look around my website and get to know me. I look forward to hearing from you


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