Learn how to manage stress symptoms better
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stressful life circumstances happen to everyone at certain points in their life and even everyday life contains its fair share of what might be described as stressors. These are defined as situations that appear to threaten our major goals.
They might include things that pose a threat to maintaining our physical security (physical stressors) or emotional wellbeing (psychological stressors). Distress can be understood as the negative psychological response to these stressors or threats. When we feel overwhelmed, anxious, sad, frustrated and helpless, it could be a sign that our everyday stress has tipped over into something more psychologically difficult to manage.
The good news is that researchers have been working for decades to try and work out the best ways to help stressed out 21st century people get their stress levels under control. If you need help with your stress load, there are a number of interventions that your therapist might consider.
WHAT DOES STRESS DO TO US?
Exposure to stressors can produce widespread effects onour bodies. Way back in our evolutionary past, our brains and bodies developed in highly specialised ways, aimed at helping us survive. The changes we experience caused by stress symptoms are believed to have evolved to support behaviours that allow individuals to deal with physical threats: the fight or flight response.
To prepare the body to run away or fight a predator, certain bodily organs and brain areas are mobilized while others that are not needed are stood down. The body makes use of its store of its energy source glucose, for example, to get itself ready for physical activity while simultaneously halting the processes associated with growth and reproduction.
Our bodies have successfully adapted to respond to this kind of acute stress response. However, repeated activation of the stress/threat systems has shown adverse long-term effects on both mental and physical health.
STRESS SYMPTOMS AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Having high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our bodies can have a significant impact on our immune system.
At certain times, such as during bereavement, redundancy, unemployment and even taking exams, cells that would normally protect the body from infection and help us heal if we have a wound have been shown to reduce.
Exposure to stressors can also increase our immune responses. A prime example is inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s orchestrated effort to tackle an injury or an infection by creating changes within the body to try and destroy it.
One way it does this is by increasing the body’s core temperature. However, if this system is activated too often or inappropriately, the body might be susceptible to a whole host of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS). Researchers also believe this inappropriate inflammatory response may play a role in cardiovascular disease.
HOW DO YOUR THOUGHTS AFFECT YOUR BODY?
We don’t realise it, but we are categorizing things all the time to see whether they are good or bad for us. The first thing we evaluate relates to how we think this situation might negatively affect our major goals: is it a threat or is it a challenge?
In the modern world, it might range from the challenging: Will this traffic mean I am late collecting my 2 year-old from nursery? To full-blown threat: Will this virus kill me or someone I love? Will everything being repeatedly opened up and then closed again mean the end of my livelihood?
The second thing we evaluate relates to how well-equipped we feel to meet the demands of the stressor. Do we have the necessary resources? Do I have the time, money, energy, health, strength, stamina to tackle this situation?
The third element that we often, unconsciously, evaluate is our broader social resources: Things may be tough at the moment but at least I have my friends and family to rely on. For those experiencing relationship break ups, social isolation or who feel socially excluded and powerless in society, this fundamental way of feeling secure in the world could be severely compromised and significantly increase levels of stress.
HOW CAN STRESS BE MANAGED?
Knowledge is strength and knowing all of the above is the first step to managing stress symptoms effectively.
Many people who come for therapy acknowledge that they are prone to driving themselves too hard and often “speak” to – have an internal dialogue with - themselves that is far harsher than they would interact with a friend or colleague.
One key aspect of managing stress is using the therapeutic space to press pause. In this “pause” space, you and your therapist can start to evaluate the impact stress is having on your whole existence.
In effect, in this "pause" space, you are your world (biological, psychological, social, environmental). As noted above, how all those elements are balanced and interact with each other is regulated by you in multiple seen and unseen ways. Some you can directly influence, while others happen automatically as a result of how “threatened” you might be feeling.
Working with your therapist can help identify situations that are – or have been in the past - genuine threats. These can be worked with using clinically informed techniques such as memory processing and re-scripting. Other techniques, informed by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches, can help adapt a person’s “threat” perceptions into more manageable “challenge” ones.
Contained within a co-constructed “pause” space might also be the chance to make an existence inventory: essentially, what is my life made up of? What is valuable? What is worth less to me? Could I benefit from more positive interactions with others? Better time management? Purposeful relaxation? Enjoyable exercise? Improved diet? More restful sleep? Practising yoga, meditation, mindfulness? Your therapist can help you incorporate any - or all - of the strategies you consider useful into a less stressful existence going forward.
HOW MUCH DOES COUNSELLING FOR STRESS COST?
Therapy lasts for 50 minutes and tends to cost between £50 and £60 for individual sessions and £75 for couples.
Counselling for your stress symptoms is most effective when conducted weekly for as long as feels helpful and productive. Your therapist will agree with you on the number of sessions that are likely to prove most effective but normally 6 sessions would be the optimal number for achieving lasting and sustainable results. The first initial session is free.
Click on the link below to book a 30-minute free consultation to see if we are a good fit to successfully work together.