What is Stress?
Stress is part of everyday life. We encounter it when our boss hands us a tough assignment, when we’re behind on our mortgage, or when we study for a big exam.
From a clinical perspective, stress is a complex psychosocial phenomenon that occurs whenever we’re confronted with tasks, demands, or situations which we perceive as painful, difficult, or of great importance.
Experts believe that stress is a perfectly normal and natural response to the demands that are placed upon us. Stress mobilizes our internal resources and helps us cope with the demands of everyday life.
However, when a task or situation surpasses our body and mind’s adaptive resources, stress becomes a harmful factor which, if not managed, can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, and other severe health problems.
But stress has a subjective component as well. In other words, a task that may prove challenging for one person might be perceived as easily achievable by another. Individual differences in stress response are due to both genetic factors and life experiences.
Some researchers believe that stress is the global epidemic of our times, affecting both men and women of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Fortunately, over the years, mental health professionals have developed an entire arsenal of stress management techniques that can help you keep this problem under control.
Signs of Stress
Stress is accompanied by a series of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that can damage your overall quality of life.
- Lack of focus
- Memory problems
- Anxious thoughts and worrying
- Difficulties in making decisions
- Restlessness, irritability, and anger
- Loneliness and social isolation
- Lack of emotional control
- Feelings of helplessness
- Nervous ticks (e.g. nail-biting)
- Muscle pains
- Changes in appetite
- Headaches and migraines
- Insomnia and sleep disturbance
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Griding, gnashing, or clenching of teeth
In the absence of proper treatment, stress can become a chronic condition leading to severe problems like panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and depressive episodes.
How is Stress Treated?
Thanks to the advances made by modern psychology, stress is now among the most manageable mental health conditions.
Since problems like anxiety or depression often accompany stress, experts recommend a psychiatric consultation based on which you can determine the severity of your condition.
If the psychiatric evaluation reveals an underlying condition, you will probably have to follow a course of antidepressants or antianxiety medication.
However, most people who struggle with stress can get back on their feet without taking medication. But that doesn’t mean this problem will go away on its own.
Even in the absence of an underlying condition that may require pharmacological treatment, you still need to visit a therapist who can help you sort things out and acquire effective stress management strategies.
If you experience stress symptoms but are unable to figure out the exact causes, perhaps it’s time to seek specialized help in the form of psychological counseling and psychotherapy.
With the help of a licensed therapist, you can identify the circumstances and factors that trigger your stress response and work on developing healthy coping strategies.
Through individual sessions, you can acquire valuable stress management techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation.
Furthermore, you can also try group therapy, an approach that brings together people who struggle with the same problem. By creating a safe and comfortable space, group therapy allows people to ‘open up’ about the stressors in their lives and cultivate mutual support.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.