What is Stress?
Stress is part of everyday life. We encounter it when our boss hands us a tough assignment, when we’re behind on our mortgage, or when we study for a big exam.
From a clinical perspective, stress is a complex psychosocial phenomenon that occurs whenever we’re confronted with tasks, demands, or situations which we perceive as painful, difficult, or of great importance.
Experts believe that stress is a perfectly normal and natural response to the demands that are placed upon us. Stress mobilizes our internal resources and helps us cope with the demands of everyday life.
However, when a task or situation surpasses our body and mind’s adaptive resources, stress becomes a harmful factor which, if not managed, can lead to burnout, anxiety, depression, and other severe health problems.
But stress has a subjective component as well. In other words, a task that may prove challenging for one person might be perceived as easily achievable by another. Individual differences in stress response are due to both genetic factors and life experiences.
Some researchers believe that stress is the global epidemic of our times, affecting both men and women of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Fortunately, over the years, mental health professionals have developed an entire arsenal of stress management techniques that can help you keep this problem under control.
Signs of Stress
Stress is accompanied by a series of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that can damage your overall quality of life.
- Lack of focus
- Memory problems
- Anxious thoughts and worrying
- Difficulties in making decisions
- Restlessness, irritability, and anger
- Loneliness and social isolation
- Lack of emotional control
- Feelings of helplessness
- Nervous ticks (e.g. nail-biting)
- Muscle pains
- Changes in appetite
- Headaches and migraines
- Insomnia and sleep disturbance
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Griding, gnashing, or clenching of teeth
In the absence of proper treatment, stress can become a chronic condition leading to severe problems like panic disorder, generalized anxiety, and depressive episodes.
How is Stress Treated?
Thanks to the advances made by modern psychology, stress is now among the most manageable mental health conditions.
Since problems like anxiety or depression often accompany stress, experts recommend a psychiatric consultation based on which you can determine the severity of your condition.
If the psychiatric evaluation reveals an underlying condition, you will probably have to follow a course of antidepressants or antianxiety medication.
However, most people who struggle with stress can get back on their feet without taking medication. But that doesn’t mean this problem will go away on its own.
Even in the absence of an underlying condition that may require pharmacological treatment, you still need to visit a therapist who can help you sort things out and acquire effective stress management strategies.
If you experience stress symptoms but are unable to figure out the exact causes, perhaps it’s time to seek specialized help in the form of psychological counseling and psychotherapy.
With the help of a licensed therapist, you can identify the circumstances and factors that trigger your stress response and work on developing healthy coping strategies.
Through individual sessions, you can acquire valuable stress management techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation.
Furthermore, you can also try group therapy, an approach that brings together people who struggle with the same problem. By creating a safe and comfortable space, group therapy allows people to ‘open up’ about the stressors in their lives and cultivate mutual support.