Stress has been described as something we all experience at one time or another, especially when we face difficulties or opportunities that require us to change in some manner. Individuals oftentimes worry about situations that have happened in the past, about circumstances currently taking place, or even about situations yet to materialize. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the current top stressors in the United States include job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.
Stress can be rather complicated; and it can be mentally detrimental, socially damaging, and physically harmful. According to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), without effective stress management, people can experience symptoms that can include “irritability, lack of concentration, minor headaches, eating too much or too little, not sleeping well, lower back pain, rashes, an upset stomach or ulcers, migraine or tension headaches, high blood pressure, and chest pains,” as well as other complications. The APA currently states that 48-percent of the people currently dealing with stress lie awake at night due to its effects; likewise, 54-percent of those who claim to have stress issues believe that it causes them to argue with close friends and relatives. To combat the problem, some use harmful coping strategies like drinking too much, substance abuse, withdrawing from family and friends, or lashing out at others, which only adds to the problem.
Regardless of the stressors, in all reality, most of our worries may be exaggerated and unnecessary. In the book, Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, author Ronald Comer emphasizes that stress, which he describes as the response to a stimulus that can disrupt one’s physical or mental stability, has two major mechanisms: a “stressor, the event that creates the demands, and a stress response, the person’s reactions to the demands”—and it comes in a variety of forms and in all dimensions.
Biologically speaking, stress disorders can develop in a person’s life when the brain translates particular circumstances as being threatening. It is then that neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus are discharged, activating the firing of neurons throughout the brain and simultaneously releasing chemicals through the individual’s body. The hypothalamus thus stimulates the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system, and a variety of symptoms ensue.
There are a variety of effective approaches being used for stress disorder prevention, management, treatment, and recovery. For instance, from a purely physical approach, certain theorists recommend that the mind and body can be relaxed holistically by employing things like controlled deep breathing exercises from the diaphragm, or by taking leisurely walks in natural light while being aware of nature and its sounds. Destressing can sometimes be as easy as doing something you find enjoyable and relaxing, or committing to a new hobby. The Help Guide also suggests other practical options for stress management: Take your dog for a walk; walk or cycle to the grocery store; use the stairway at home or at work rather than an elevator; play ping-pong or an activity-based video game with your children; and, most importantly, carve out “me-time” for entertainment and relaxation.
Another method, from a more interpersonal mindset, could be to seek out supportive friends or family, especially those who are good listeners; or, better yet, find a qualified professional counselor in whom to confide. Meditation strategies and exercise programs can be beneficial plans of action from the behavioral perspective; and some counselors endorse self-care for the client, such as listening to soothing music, painting landscapes, journaling, or other therapeutic writing exercises.
On a cognitive level, development of a new mindset can be beneficial, such as when a person recognizes that he or she, or some external condition, is the true source of the stress in the first place. Professional counselors can guide a client in new ways of thinking, and into finding healthier means to eliminate detrimental thought patterns—by maybe reframing problems and identifying certain triggers that lead to stress. The therapist can help the individual come to acknowledge that certain situations causing pressure may never change, but choosing to modify one’s reaction to the situation can be valuable in acceptance of the circumstance. ABCT suggests other cognitive strategies, which can include progressive relaxation training, controlled breathing techniques, cognitive restructuring, assertiveness training and communication skills training, and problem-solving techniques. When a person can’t easily change an identified stressor, he or she can always learn to follow the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept life’s circumstances and thereby regain control.
Treating professionals oftentimes use an amalgamation of scientifically proven theoretical approaches within a therapeutic environment. Most importantly, for the person experiencing this problem, don’t allow stress to develop a foothold in your life. Instead, seek professional help early on, when you first feel apprehension, fearful, or anxious.
For additional information on the subject of today’s column, contact the new Logan Mingo Area Mental Health (LMAMH) at (304) 792-7130, where walk-ins are always welcome and intake assessments are available on-site. At LMAMH, counselors, doctors, caseworkers, and other professionals are on duty to help you.