Stress is a part of everyday modern living. Most of us are faced with stressful situations on a regular basis. These are usually fairly minor stress indicators – you might be running late to meet a friend, studying for an exam, trying to get your kids to school or responding to a particularly busy workplace scenario. At other times, these stressors may be more significant – you may have lost your job and be struggling financially, you or someone you love might be suffering from an illness, or your child might be the victim of bullying behaviour.
Stress is both a psychological and a physical response to feeling overloaded or challenged beyond the point at which we are able to cope. Psychologically we may feel overwhelmed, anxious, worried or tearful when we are stressed. Some of the psychological consequences of undue stress can include insomnia, anxiety and depression.
Physically, the human body responds to stress by releasing cortisone and adrenaline hormones (the fight or flight response). This is a normal health response to stress. Most importantly however, is that a healthy stress response involves a calming of these hormones once the threat has dissipated. So in situations of prolonged stress, the body never has a chance to recuperate, putting unsustainable pressure on the body.
Physical responses to undue levels of stress or sustained stress include:
increased heart rate
high blood pressure
high blood sugar levels
decreased immune responses.
Chronic stress, where stress levels remain high for an extended period of time, put us at the greatest risk of developing these physical symptoms and, according to the Center for Studies on Human Stress, it is many of these physical effects which can cause us the most physical damage (such as risk of heart attack and diabetes) over time.
Reducing your stress, and managing your stress, is then essential not just to emotional well-being, but also to your physical health.
What causes stress?
The Australian Psychological Society has found that young adults and women tend to experience higher levels of stress than the remainder of the population. Family breakdown has been found to be the greatest cause of stress in Australians, with one’s workplace accounting for 30% of the reasons why Australians experience stress. Stress is also commonly caused by death or serious injury, and the grief and life change that ensues.
Regardless of whether or not the cause of your stress is considered to be significant or not, it’s the way we deal with stressful situations that affects our overall capacity to live a calm and satisfying life. Not surprisingly, the level of stress that people can cope with, and the way in which we each respond to stressful indicators, varies enormously.
If you have come from a home which was always surrounded by high degrees of stress or agitation, or where stress was not managed well, you may find that you also experience some difficulty managing the demands and stressors of your life. These skills are not automatic; they must be learnt.
Stress management techniques incorporate a number of strategies that are designed to help you cope with both the physical and mental aspects of the stress response. An assessment of your areas of weakness can inform you or your counsellor about the areas you need more help in. Commonly, stress management techniques include:
Understanding the cause(s) of your stress and taking practical steps to eliminate or minimise your exposure to those causes
Learning to recognise the physical indicators of high stress so that you can respond in a helpful way
Learning short-term relaxation techniques to reduce the impact of stress in the moment and to improve your capacity to handle stressful situations, for e.g. taking 10 deep breaths) and
Involving yourself in long-term relaxation strategies such as meditation or yoga.
Understanding the emotional triggers which cause you to react badly to stress
Stress management counselling can help you understand the causes of your stress, address your emotional responses to stressful situations, and find practical ways to calm down your body and your mind.