It is inevitable that we all experience stress from time to time. In some cases, however, stress becomes so intense for an individual that they are unable to go about the regular business of life. Unmanageable stress can require the intervention and support, therefore, of a mental health professional.
Why We Get Stressed
Stress actually happens because we originally needed it as a defense mechanism. Imagine you were still living in the early days of humans– having a fast stress response to a predator’s approach would serve you well, wouldn’t it? A stress signal told you that you had to protect yourself from a threat.
Today, our lives are very different. We don’t necessarily need to escape predators as we once did. Nonetheless, stress remains, triggering us sometimes in unnecessary ways.
Techniques for Stress Management
For those of us who experience high stress on a regular basis, working in tandem with a therapist can provide us with ways in which to manage stress more effectively. There are a number of interventions that help those with stress, including:
CBT is a popular intervention for those with stress. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy allows patients to discuss how stress manifests in their lives with a therapist and then explore what coping mechanisms they can use to address stress and its triggers.
While not an answer on their own, lifestyle changes done in tandem with therapy can be helpful, as well. We cannot always get rid of certain stressors, such as a job, but we can implement small changes that make them more manageable and alleviate some stress associated with them. Your therapist can work on these changes with you.
Finally, medication can be very effective in some cases where a patient experiences stress. Anti-anxiety medications can help, but may come with risks of addiction. Managing medication in partnership with your psychiatrist is the best way to mitigate any risks associated with these medications.
Different Categories of Stress
Stress comes in several forms, including chronic, acute, or episodic stress. Those with stress may have one or some combination of all three at various times in life. Understanding each of these categories can help people who are seeking out help for their high stress.
There are certain things in life we will always have to cope with, including finances, jobs, and relationships with others. For this reason, when we experience stress in these areas of life it can be chronic stress. This means that the person with stress experiences stress everyday for weeks or months.
The long-term nature of chronic stress means that people can begin to experience physical symptoms as well, compounding the problem.
Chronic Stress Symptoms
Symptoms associated with chronic stress include:
- Faulty concentration
- Feeling a loss of control in life
- Heightened irritability
- Poor self-esteem
- Digestive issues
- Experiencing hopelessness
The Effect of Chronic Stress on Physical Health
Chronic stress can cause serious harm to one’s physical well-being, creating a wide variety of issues, including:
- Problems remembering things
- Comorbid anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Weight gain or weight loss
Treating Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is best addressed by a combination of therapy and lifestyle adjustments. In therapy sessions, the therapist and patient can focus on recognizing triggers of stress in the patient’s life. Healthy lifestyle changes can improve equilibrium and well-being while also helping to ameliorate the effects of certain stressors in the patient’s life.
Acute Stress Disorder
When someone experiences a sudden trauma, such as a death in the family or living through a serious accident or violent crime, that person can develop acute stress disorder. Acute stress disorder is a short-term response to a single event or stressor, though symptoms can remain for weeks after the original event. When someone experiences symptoms for longer than 30 days in these scenarios, therapists may need to consider whether or not that person has an anxiety disorder.
Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms associated with this form of stress include:
- Startling easily and often
- An increase in irritability
- Experiencing flashbacks to the trauma
- Blocking out the inciting incident
- Disassociating from reality or others
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Avoiding others or reminders of a trauma
- Not sleeping well
- Being oblivious to surroundings
- Maintaining emotional detachment from others
Treating Acute Stress
First and foremost, your therapist may wish to rule out the presence of any other mental health conditions. Treating acute stress effectively typically involves therapy and/or medication.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
A patient with episodic acute stress disorder has a very strong reaction to what may seem to others to be a small thing. It is often associated with people commonly referred to as Type A. Thes brief but intense moments of stress are quite real for the individual. Others sometimes misinterpret them as made-up or overly dramatic.
The Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
The symptoms of episodic acute stress disorder can include:
- Muscular tightness or strain without an underlying physical cause
- Digestive problems
- Panic attacks
- Increased heart rate
- Uncontrolled anger
When people ignore this condition, they can develop physical symptoms, including:
- Severe or chronic headache
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Treating Episodic Acute Stress
As with chronic stress, episodic acute stress is often treated with therapy and recommendations for lifestyle changes. If stress levels spike, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication.