I've been pondering the effects of stress on people for a long while. Right throughout my line of work I see more stressed people than you could shake a stick at! Stress is a funny old thing really. We actually need some kinds of stress. Really! We do!
You need some stress to get up in the morning, it is critical to feeling motivated and interested in getting on with your life. Like bad stress, good stress, called eustress, also gets the heart pumping, increases your breathing rate, makes you perspire more and causes chemicals reactions through-out your system.
The big difference is in the type of chemicals you produce when you are excited and happy - verses being excited and apprehensive or unhappy. When we are in a “good” stress situation, you get a kind of “runners high” type of chemical cocktail. Lovely chemicals like endorphin, serotonin and dopamine are produced by our bodies and do all sorts of good things for our systems. They act almost like antidotes to the bad stress chemicals. Stress management can teach you how to change from the bad to the good type.
Ok so, what other kinds of stress are there?
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. A fast run down a challenging ski slope, for example, is exhilarating early in the day. That same ski run late in the day is taxing and wearing. Skiing beyond your limits can lead to falls and broken bones. By the same token, overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach, and other symptoms.
Fortunately, acute stress symptoms are recognised by most people. It's an accumilated list of what has gone awry in their lives: the car accident, the loss of an important contract, a deadline they're rushing to meet, their child's occasional problems at school, and so on. Because it is short term, acute stress doesn't have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress.
Episodic Acute Stress. There are those, however, who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so disordered that they are studies in chaos and crisis. They're always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can't organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamouring for their attention. They seem perpetually in the clutches of acute stress.
It is common for people with acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense. Often, they describe themselves as having "a lot of nervous energy." Always in a hurry, they tend to be abrupt, and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility. Interpersonal relationships deteriorate rapidly when others respond with real hostility. The work becomes a very stressful place for them.
Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. It's the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions.
Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences that become internalised and remain forever painful and present. Some experiences profoundly affect personality. A view of the world, or a belief system, is created that causes unending stress for the individual (e.g., the world is a threatening place, people will find out you are a pretender, you must be perfect at all times). When personality or deep-seated convictions and beliefs must be reformulated, recovery requires active self-examination, often with professional help.
The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it's there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable.
Chronic stress kills through suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke, and, perhaps, even cancer. People wear down to a final, fatal breakdown. Because physical and mental resources are depleted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical as well as behavioural treatment and stress management.
So, if you know you’re suffering from stress, why not book an appointment to see me! Together with a range of guided techniques, we can devise strategies which not only reduce your stress levels, but teach you how to create the positive stress in your life – the healthy stress that we all need!
Have a look at my website for contact info! www.kenttherapyclinic.co.uk
Emma Evans runs Kent Therapy Clinic and also helps coach other therapists in her spare time when she's not seeing clients at her busy practice. This blog is full of useful articles and interesting facts to do with therapy in general. Please feel free to add your comments to the blog.