Stress is a normal human reaction to the demands of life. Can you do everything you need to? Will you do them well? Will you let someone down? Will you lose your job as a result? Or lose your partner?
Stress is not itself a problem – we need a certain amount to feel stimulated and alive. Stress becomes a problem when these demands become overwhelming and create an additional worry about whether you can cope. This feeling of not coping can turn ordinary stress into chronic stress.
Stress can have many causes, such as caring for a loved one, commuting, money, moving, relationships and work. It is often caused by a combination of these things, so for example a manageable job becomes stressful because some other demand reduces your ability to cope with work.
In the UK, 1 in 6 workers consider their jobs to be very or extremely stressful. This means there’s little energy left to cope with other life events.
Stress and the worries about not being able to cope trigger a physical defence mechanism in the body. This defence is known as the “fight or flight” response. We have this defence to protect us from threat, to give the energy required to fight or run away. It does this by flooding the body with adrenaline and cortisol triggering a high alert state with a lot of energy. This enables us to do extraordinary things, but our bodies need recovery time – unstressed times – to clear the stress hormones and perform normal bodily functions such as eat, sleep, repair and rest.
However, in the modern world, this defence is often triggered for situations where neither fight nor flight is an option. Furthermore, there is no relief from it, no recovery phase where the body returns to normal functioning.
This continuous flooding with stress hormones interferes with normal bodily functions, so has a number of effects which include crying, insomnia, irritability, headaches, frequent illnesses, drinking, over-eating, indigestion, loss of libido, fuzzy thinking, tension and fatigue.
Long term, chronic stress can result in psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and sleeping problems. It can also cause physical problems such as heart attacks and digestive problems.
There are two sides to being less stressed: stress reduction and stress management.
You can reduce stress by making changes to your life. For example, changing the balance of work to home and relationships, possibly changing jobs or negotiating a different job role, setting aside times to do things you enjoy or being with the people important people in your life.
You can also learn to manage stress better. To become more aware of the bodily stress symptoms and how to relieve them, give yourself opportunities to recover. You may also find that your personal history means you are sensitive to certain stressors.
For most people, a combination of these two approaches is useful in reducing stress.
Counselling can help you explore the sources of stress and come up with ways of managing them better. It can help to examine your attitudes to work, to relationships, to family to see if you are expected to do too much, or expecting yourself to do too much, thus causing stress. Counselling can also look at the balance of different aspects of your life and find ways of being more balanced.
Furthermore, counselling can teach you stress management skills that reduce the fight or flight response and its effects on your body. This will mean you feel less tired and irritable, will function better, think more clearly, be less tense and will sleep better.
If you want help with stress, get in touch!