Stress Management

Stress is a natural part of anyone’s life, but sometimes it gets so extreme that it interferes with one’s ability to maintain a quality of life. In situations in which stress is unmanageable, individuals often turn to mental health professionals for help in ameliorating and managing stress.

The Role Stress Plays in Humans

Stress evolved naturally as a defense mechanism for humans. When we still lived in nature, we were constantly at risk from predators. Stress signals became a way in which we could alert ourselves to the presence of these threats.

In modern life, however, many now have a disorder relationship with stress. When no predator is present, people may still feel triggered and they may experience these feelings of stress long after a trigger has disappeared. 

Techniques for Stress Management 

Working with a mental health professional is one of the best ways for individuals to learn how to manage their stress. This can involve a number of therapeutic techniques. 

CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most widely used techniques in treating stress. In CBT practice, patients explore how stress affects their lives, identify triggers of stress, and develop new tools for coping with stress.

Lifestyle Changes 

Sometimes, implementing lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on stress. Small shifts, such as delegating at work or maintaining a schedule, can assuage the effects of stress in someone’s life. Some stressors, such as work, cannot be eliminated, but changes can be made to make things easier. 

Medication 

Medication is yet another tool that is effective in lessening stress. Given that medication for stress can be addictive, patients should engage in the process of medication management with an experienced psychiatrist. 

Different Types of Stress

Stress can be chronic, acute, or episodic, and individuals may experience one or any combination of these when struggling with stress. The following describes each of these types of stress in detail. 

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress relates to aspects of our lives that are permanent or semi-permanent, such as employment, relationships, and money. Experiencing chronic stress means the individual is stressed practically every day for months at a time.

Due to the fact that individuals with chronic stress experience stress for long periods of time, it can begin to affect their health or even cause them to develop insomnia, further exacerbating the cycle of stress. 

Chronic Stress Symptoms

The signs of chronic stress include:

  • An inability to concentrate at work or school
  • Headaches
  • Feeling out of control 
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Stomach problems
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Insomnia

How Chronic Stress Affects Physical Health

Chronic stress can affect our physical health in serious ways, causing:

  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Heart disease
  • IBS
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

Treating Chronic Stress 

A combination of lifestyle changes and CBT is often the best approach to treating chronic stress. Working in session, patients can begin to identify what triggers their stress then develop tools for coping with those triggers. This is done in tandem with healthy lifestyle changes, such as engaging in exercise or maintaining good sleep hygiene. 

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder results after sudden trauma, including the death of a loved one and experiencing a violent crime. These types of trauma are one-time events and not ongoing as in chronic stress. The after effects, however, can last for weeks or months, with stress hormones remaining in the body long after the inciting event. If symptoms last past 30 days, the patient may have an anxiety disorder. 

Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of acute stress include:

  • Scaring easily
  • Increased irritability
  • Flashbacks to the inciting event
  • Blocking out the inciting event
  • Disassociating from reality
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Insomnia
  • Not being aware of surroundings
  • Developing emotional distance from others

Treating Acute Stress Disorder

As a first step, a therapist can give a patient a psychiatric evaluation to assess the situation and rule out comorbid conditions. The therapist can then develop a treatment plan that can include CBT and medication. 

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder

In Episodic Acute Stress Disorder, a patient has an extreme reaction to a small trigger. Many who experience this disorder are what we call “Type A” and primed to view small failures as catastrophic. 

The stress episodes in this condition are often short but intense. Triggers are not external, instead stemming from the patient’s own internal world and expectations. These reactions feel as real as physical threats to patients, and are not the result of “dramatic” tendencies, as some misconstrue them to be. 

The Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder 

Signs of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder include:

  • Tight muscles with no physical cause
  • Stomach problems
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncontrollable anger o4 irritability

Patients with untreated Episodic Acute stress can have physical issues, including:

  • Chronic headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

Treating Episodic Acute Stress 

Combining CBT with lifestyle changes is typically the best answer for these patients. When stress levels are very high, a mental health professional may recommend medication.