Psychology of us

STRESS

 The problem is that stress is the result of caring about something; it is human and it is inevitable. – Donald Meichenbaum

 

Doctors, scientists, and the media warn us that stress is toxic and that We Must Calm Down or suffer the health consequences. This causes a dilemma for many of us. How many people do we know who lead stress-free lives? And how often, despite our best efforts to manage or avoid it, do we encounter at least a moderate level of stress on a regular basis?

 

Contents:

What is Stress?

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Causes of Stress

How Psychotherapy Helps You Get Better at Stress

What is Stress?

Stress is the way that our mind and body react to demands or threats. Whereas anxiety is worry about what might happen in the future, stress is the response to what is happening now.

 

Distress or Eustress?

 

Stress is our brain’s way of protecting us. While stress overload is harmful, hindering us in the face of difficult life events, other forms of stress invigorate us to rise to the challenge. This positive version of stress is known as eustress. Whether we find a situation distressing or eustress-ing has less to do with whether the stressor is threatening and more to do with whether we think we can handle it.

 

If we perceive a challenge to outweigh our coping resources, then our brains will react with a fight or flight response. If we think that we have the resources to cope, our brain enacts healthier stress responses (1). FIND OUT MORE: The Science Behind Stress

 

 

How we label our body’s reactions to stress – heart rate, breathing, body temperature – also determines what emotional response we will have.

 

 

In both situations above, our stickman is experiencing a stress response. When jumping out of a plane, he views his physical sensations – shrieking, shaking, and heart racing – as exhilarating. Though his physical sensations are the same when he spots a mouse, he translates them as evidence of real danger. For example, ‘I think I might be having a heart attack!’ This intensifies his fight or flight response (2).

 

Therefore, we experience either eustress or distress, depending on whether we think we can cope and how we interpret its physical effects. The good news is that we have more control over these than we might think (more on that later).

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

When we perceive a threat, our brains release stress hormones that prepare us to protect ourselves or others. This impacts our thinking, physiology, behaviour, and emotions. Everyone experiences stress differently but here are some common stress reactions.

 

 

Other psychological or medical issues may cause these symptoms. I provide treatment for stress but a medical doctor will perform diagnostic tests (physical exam, lab tests) that can determine if your symptoms are the result of a medical condition. Tell the doctor about all of your symptoms, even if you think that they are unrelated.

Causes of Stress

 

Stress can be caused by anything that we perceive as demanding. Two people can have the same experience and have different stress responses. Stress can disproportionate and unrealistic or it can be a rational and reasonable response.

 

We experience eustress when we perceive something to be challenging but manageable. Positive events such as getting married, running a race, a job interview, graduation, or a promotion can result in eustress. However, positive events can also cause distress if we feel overwhelmed or we think that we will have trouble coping with the changes that they bring about.

 

Distress occurs when our situation presents us with demands that outweigh our (perceived) ability to cope. Distress can also occur when we think that about disturbing images, distressing memories or when we worry about the past or the future.

What long-term effects does stress have on us?

Chronic stress can have detrimental effects on our physical health over the long-term, these include digestive issues, sleep problems, skin conditions, weight problems, heart disease memory and concentration issues. Being over-stressed can lead to psychological issues such as moodiness, depression, anxiety, and anger issues.

 

According to research, the factors that seem to have the most impact on how detrimental stress is to our health include the intensity and length of demands, as well as our coping skills (1). Unsurprisingly, research suggests that short-term, moderate stress levels are less damaging to our health than stress that is chronic and severe (4).

 

While we may not be able to control the challenges life throws at us, we can increase our ability to cope with them.

 

Some life circumstances are so distressing that we can´t help but feel overwhelmed. For example, bullying or abusive relationships, crisis situations, or past tragedies and losses that still haunt us. If you feel overwhelmed to the point that your ability to function in everyday life is impaired, the other posts on this site address the more severe effects of ongoing stress: Anxiety, Depression, Traumatic Memories.

 

You don’t have to go through this alone. You can contact me at jena@themonkeytherapist.com for Skype sessions. Or seek the help of a professional in your area. Seeking help can change your life.

 

Monkey Therapy

How Psychotherapy (and Monkey therapy) Helps You Get Better at Stress

The following ways are primarily based on my practice, which combines elements of Cognitive Behavioural and Compassion-Focused therapies as well as Affective Neuroscience and Transactional Analysis. I practise these via Skype, which gives you the added bonus of accessing treatment without travel time, traffic, or waiting rooms from wherever you feel comfortable and safe. Find out more about Skype therapy.

Psychotherapy works by helping you:

Uncover the underlying causes of stress. Stress is not caused by our situation alone, it is caused by our perceptions of the situation. Treatment enables you to understand the underlying, sometimes hidden, beliefs and ways of thinking that are exacerbating your stress levels.

 

Desensitise stress triggers and change negative thought patterns. Once we uncover them, therapy challenges negative beliefs and perceptions that can trigger your stress. Then psychotherapy guides you toward replacing them with more realistic and healthy alternatives.

 

Calm your mind and your body. Psychotherapy teaches relaxation exercises, controlled breathing, and visualisation to help you calm yourself when you feel stressed.

 

Gain a sense of control over your situation. One of the main reasons that we experience stress is because we don’t have control in our situation. We might not be able to control the stressful situation itself, but we can control our reactions to it. Therapy provides a safe space and an effective process for problem-solving, which includes creating actionable plans for change.

 

Strengthen your ability to cope and build your resilience. Psychotherapy strengthens your self-compassion, self-worth, and ability to bounce back after setbacks, changing your feelings of overwhelm to ones of capability.

 

FIND OUT MORE: The Science Behind Stress, Steps You Can Take Now to Get Better at Stress. Or contact me: jena@themonkeytherapist.com

 

References and Contributors
  1. Kelly McGonigal. (2015). The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.
  2. Donald Meichenbaum. (1985). Stress Inoculation Training.
  3. Paul Gilbert. (2010). The Compassionate Mind.
  4. Neil Schneiderman, Gail Ironson, & Scott D. Siegel. (2005). Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annual review of clinical psychology.
  5. Paul Gilbert. (2010). The Compassionate Mind.
  6. Joseph LeDoux. (2015). Feelings: What are they and how does the brain make them? Daedalus.
  7. Todd Kashdan. (2015). The Power of Negative Emotion: How Anger, Guilt, and

    Self Doubt are Essential to Success and Fulfillment.

  8. Karla McLaren. (2010). The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You.

 

 

 

 

 


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