Learn About Stress Management

Stress can happen in anyone’s life. In some cases, however, stress becomes an unmanageable situation that interferes with a person’s quality of life. When this happens, many turn to mental health professionals to learn stress management techniques and tools. 


The Role of Stress in our Lives

Stress developed in humans as a defense mechanism. In the distant past, it signalled us to impending dangers such as predatory animals. It is a natural and effective defense mechanism to physical threats. 

In some people, however, stress can present when no true physical threat is present. Things such as work or personal relationships can cause serious reactions in these individuals, and they may hold onto these feelings long after the stressful situation has passed. 

 


Techniques for Stress Management 

Patients can work with mental health professionals to develop a variety of techniques for fighting stress.  These can help the patient manage stress and improve their quality of life. 

CBT

CBT is one of the most popular tools for managing stress. This talk therapy helps patients identify the presence and role of stress in their lives and then develop tools to combat it. Techniques include reversing negative ideation.

Lifestyle Changes 

Making lifestyle changes can also help in stress management. Some individuals who are stressed at work, for example, may need to learn how to delegate. A single mother may need to learn how to take time for herself. A therapist can also help a patient develop preemptive tools that ameliorate stress when the patient cannot necessarily eliminate the stressor from their life (i.e. a job). 

Medication 

Medication can also be an effective tool for combating stress. Some medication that combats stress can be addictive, so it is important to pursue a careful program of medication management in partnership with an experienced psychiatrist. 


Different Types of Stress

Stress can come in three forms: chronic, acute, and episodic. Patients can experience one or some combination of the three types of stress. In order to receive a diagnosis, stress must interfere with someone’s daily life. 


Chronic Stress

Chronic stress stems from long-term factors in life such as jobs, relationships, and finances. In chronic stress, the patient experiences stress almost each and every day over long periods of time.  

This type of stress can cause cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise in a patient. This, in turn, can cause physical illness. Chronic stress also leads to insomnia which can exacerbate physical stressors. 

The Signs of Chronic Stress

Symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Faulty concentration at work or school
  • Chronic headaches
  • Feelings of loss of control 
  • Extreme irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stomach troubles
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Insomnia

The Effects of Chronic Stress

The physical results of chronic stress can cause serious harm to the body including:

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

Treating Chronic Stress 

The best approach to chronic stress typically combines lifestyle changes and CBT. The first order of business is to identify stressors in sessions. Patients and therapists can then develop tools and lifestyle changes that ameliorate these stressors. 


Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder occurs in the aftermath of a sudden traumatic event. Triggering events often include threats to either the patient or a family member and can include violent crimes. The sudden death of a loved one can also be a triggering event. 

The stressor in acute stress is not ongoing, as it is with chronic stress. Acute stress stays with the patient long after the inciting event, for days and even weeks. Stress hormones can remain in the system for as long as a month. When symptoms extend past a month, chances are the patient may have an anxiety disorder. 

The Signs of Acute Stress Disorder 

The emotional symptoms of acute stress include:

  • Startling easily
  • Excessive irritability
  • Flashbacks to the trauma that feel real
  • Having no memory of the traumatic event
  • Disassociation
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoidance of triggering situations or places  
  • Insomnia
  • Decreasing awareness of surroundings
  • Emotional distance

Treating Acute Stress Disorder

The first order of business may be a full psychiatric evaluation. This process can be helpful in ruling out closely related mental health disorders. Once evaluation is done, therapies can include CBT and medication. 

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder involves extreme stress reactions to small triggers. This disorder is commonly associated with those who are “Type A”. Small failings are misinterpreted as extremely stressful and serious events by the patient. 

As an acute disorder, the reactions can be brief but intense. Triggers tend to be internal, however, instead of external and include unrealistic expectations on the patient’s part.  While some misinterpret people with this disorder as dramatic, it is important to realize that these situations feel as real as physical threats to them. 

The Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder 

Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder can include:

  • Unexplained muscle tightness
  • Digestive issues
  • Recurring panic attacks
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncontrolled rage and irritability

Physical symptoms can stem from untreated Episodic Acute stress, including:

  • Chronic headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

Treating Episodic Acute Stress 

As with other stress disorders, a combination of CBT and lifestyle changes can be effective treatments. In some extreme cases, a psychiatrist may recommend supplementing talk therapy with medication.