You spend hours a day commuting. Every month is a constant struggle to pay your bills. Your relationships at home and work are suffering. You have no time to relax, and your body physically aches.
It’s overwhelming. It feels impossible to tackle everything at once.
Does this sound all too familiar?
You might be feeling the repercussions of chronic stress. If left unaddressed, the burden of chronic stress is too heavy to bear all on your own. But that’s where stress therapy steps in. Seeking treatment for stress management is a big step towards easing that burden off your shoulders.
The good news? Stress is one of the most frequently treated issues in therapy. Counselors are well equipped to help you overcome the underlying problems with stress and anxiety. Outside of talk-therapy, there are dozens of techniques and lifestyle changes all capable of lightening the load.
If you are feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, here is what you need to know.
All About Chronic Stress
Stress is all too common a mental health condition in this day and age. Chances are you have experienced a stressful period over the last year. Perhaps one so extreme, you found it very challenging to manage. You are not alone in this experience, far from it.
According to one definition, stress is “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her wellbeing.” Anyone can experience stress, no matter what their life looks like. Stress doesn’t care about age, gender, social status, or financial statement.
YouGov performed a survey in 2018, analysis the responses from 4,619 people in the United Kingdom. The results, as reported by the Mental Health Foundation, found 74 percent of people felt so stressed out at some point in the previous year, they felt unable to cope.
The survey also suggested that younger people tend to feel overwhelmed more frequently than older generations. Another report suggests the most stressed-out age group are people between the ages of 30 and 49.
The workplace is frequently a cause of chronic stress. The American Institute of Stress tells us that 83 percent of Americans experience work-related stress, and close to a million people miss work every day because of it.
The most commonly reported causes of work-related anxiety were inter-office communications, relationships with management, and workload. In a majority of cases, workers said they were ready to quit because of the continuous on the job stress.
What are the Mental and Physical Signs of Stress?
Understanding chronic stress if the first step towards stress management. Unlike many common physical illnesses, stress tends to manifest in different ways for different people. As only one example, some people shut down completely when they reach peak stress, while others with high-functioning anxiety, may ramp up their productivity. In another example, some people turn to others to talk about their issues, and other folks turn inwards to cope.
Stress is as unique as the person experiencing it.
Making stress management even more complicated than it already is, is the fact that stress presents both physical and mental symptoms. Chronic stress and burnout can very often have severe impacts on physical health, like increasing inflammation, digestion issues, and migraines. Mentally, stress may develop into other mental health diagnoses, like anxiety disorders and depression.
Knowing both the physical and mental signs of stress are critical first steps, before stress therapy, or stress management. The following are some of the most common indications of stress, and worth keeping an eye out for if you find yourself spiraling out of control.
Mental Signs of Stress:
- Diagnosis with another mental illness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, over 50 percent of survey respondents who were stressed, was also diagnosed with depression. Over 60 percent of stressed-out respondents had anxiety.
- Anger and irritability. The American Psychological Association confirms 42 percent of Americans feel angry and irritable when stressed.
- Difficulty focusing and remembering. The authors behind “The impact of stress on body function: A review reported, “stress can cause functional and structural changes in the hippocampus section of the brain.” Previous studies found, “High concentrations of stress hormones can cause declarative memory disorders.”
- Feel easily overwhelmed. Stress can make it feel impossible to tackle the task in front of you. Even small steps seem impossible to tackle. In a high functioning anxious person, this might appear as mania, and a frantic attempt to get everything done at once. In other people, this might mean a complete shutdown, and an inability to tackle any to-do items.
Physical Signs of Stress:
- Changes in appetite. In the same survey by YouGov, close to 50 percent of participants reported eating more than usual, or in unhealthy ways because they felt stressed.
- Reliance on drugs or alcohol to cope. YouGov found 29 percent of people drank as an unhealthy stress therapy technique, and 16 percent started smoking.
- An increase in the frequency and severity of headaches. A study published in 2015, titled “The association between stress and headache: A longitudinal population-based study.” confirmed an association between an increase in stress and an increase in headaches.
- Problems sleeping. A 2012 publication, “Stress and Sleep Disorder,” looked at how stress impacts sleep. The authors detailed how “Stress is a complex condition with emotional, cognitive, and biological factors,” and “Sleep disorders are closely associated with significant medical, psychological and social disturbances.” Clearly, the two are connected.
What is Therapy for Stress Management?
Both stress therapy and stress management are two terms covering the same topic. They describe various techniques and treatments for managing chronic stress and other related conditions. It might mean seeing a therapist for stress, but it also might look like a long hot bath or a walk through the forest.
Whether you choose to conquer your stress on your own, or with the help of a certified counselor, stress management encompasses three steps:
- Identify and understand the root causes
- Create a plan of action to address the causes
- Execute and practice the plan of action
During stress and burnout, sessions with a counselor are invaluable to working through conflicts, unresolved issues, and other mental health conditions. One of the most common reasons to see a therapist is stress, and any experienced counselor will have a long history working with clients to overcome anxiety and chronic stress conditions.
Beyond talk-therapy, there is also a myriad of practices you can develop on your own. These techniques may even come up in therapy sessions as you work together to create a plan of action. Again, everyone has a different relationship with stress, which means unique treatment plans.
As per Suzan Miller-Hoover, RN in a piece for RN.com, “Stress management is defined as a set of techniques and programs intended to help people deal more effectively with stress in their lives by analyzing the specific stressors and taking positive actions to minimize their effects.” It doesn’t matter whether you develop these programs on your own, or with the guidance of a qualified counselor – the outcomes should be the same.
7 Stress Relieving Exercises and Practices
- Keep exercising. According to a recent study discussed on Runners World, exercise influenced the impacts of stress. It may not have reduced the number of stressful situations, but it reduced how the individuals experienced them. As per Runner’s World, “the regular exercisers’ negative effect was 14 percent lower than that of the other subjects.” This is one study among dozens showing the positive impact of physical activity on stress.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet. Typically, as soon as stress strikes, a healthy diet goes out of the window, because it can be hard to focus on fruits and vegetables as well as mental health. Fuel your body even during stressful times by filling your plate with colorful veggies, fruits, and healthy. These will help reduce the physical stressors and support your mental wellbeing.
- Talk to someone. Talking to a professional, versed in stress management, is always a good idea. Researchers recently looked at Jordanian university students, some who had received cognitive behavioral therapy for stress. They found “lower scores on perceived stress, lower depressive symptoms, less use of avoidance coping strategies, and more use of approach coping strategies,” among students who had attended cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.
- Practice daily meditation. Time and time again, meditation is a proven way to reduce the experience of stress. As one example, the authors of “Effects of meditation on stress, health, and affect,” concluded, “Frequent meditators reported significantly fewer stressors and illness symptoms; lower levels of anxiety, hostility, depression, and dysphoria; and higher levels of positive affect and sensation-seeking than did infrequent meditators.”
- Carve out downtime. In today’s modern world, we do not get a lot of time for pure relaxation. Worse yet, downtime these days typically means screen time. If you find yourself always running from one task to another, without any proper downtime in between, schedule it. Set aside time every few days, to sit quietly and honestly unwind without any distraction.
Stress Management Therapy is a Proven Approach to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
In the 21st century, the vast majority of adults struggle with managing stress on an ongoing basis. The root causes may be different, but the result is the same. Chronic stress and anxiety impact quality of life, and often manifest in very physical manners.
Perhaps as a society, we have gotten out of practice managing stress on our own. Maybe in years gone by therapy for stress management was working outside, or merely the absence of social media. Whatever the reason, there are higher stress levels today than a few decades ago. It’s an alarming trend.
By understanding chronic stress and developing a customized stress management action plan, you are capable of returning your stress level to a calm baseline. It won’t happen overnight, but with a long-term commitment, you’ll feel remarkably stable and long-lasting results. It may seem surprising, but a balanced diet, a little exercise, and a meditation practice can genuinely reduce the experience of chronic stress and anxiety.