Understanding Stress Management

Many of us experience stress. It is a common reaction to the difficulties of life. In fact, as with anger, some amount of stress is part and parcel or a healthy mind. In some cases, however, stress can become too much to manage, preventing someone from enjoying a quality of life or even doing daily tasks. 

The Role Stress Plays in Life

Stress was designed to protect us in certain scenarios. When we are under real threat, stress serves as a boost to the system that helps us physically fight against or escape a situation. When stress is a problem, it appears even when the individual is not under any imminent threat. 

Managing Stress

Patients can work in tandem with therapists to learn more about the role stress plays in their lives. They can then work with that specialist to develop techniques that help them cope with and manage stress.

CBT & Stress Management

Also known as CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most common and successful interventions for managing stress. Patients use CBT to identify the negative thoughts and behaviors they experience, then work with a therapist to employ coping strategies. By reframing their thoughts and eliminating negative behaviors, patients can reduce stress’ impact in their lives to a significant degree.

Lifestyle Changes When Managing Stress

Mental health experts often recommend certain lifestyle changes for patients learning to manage their stress. Changes such as exercising more, delegating responsibilities to others, and finding healthy outlets can all help a patient manage their stress more effectively.  

Medication for Stress Management

In some cases, medication may be necessary as a patient progresses through their journey. Options can include beta-blockers taken on an as needed basis and SSRIs that blanace serotonin levels on an ongoing basis. 

Different Types of Stress

Disorder stress can be chronic, acute, or episodic. In some cases, a patient may experience different types of stress over time. In all types of disordered stress, the patient’s symptoms interfere with their ability to maintain a quality of life.

It is important for all patients to remember that stress is a manageable and treatable condition. Getting to know the different types of stress can help patients identify their own symptoms and seek out professional help. 

Chronic Stress

Long-term stressors such as money problems, relationship issues, or difficulties at work can cause chronic stress. The person experiencing chronic stress experiences disordered stress levels almost every day.

Defining Chronic Stress

Raised levels of cortisol and adrenalie are almost always present in the patient with chronic stress, causing the individual to feel as if they are always “on call.” This individual has a very hard time relaxing or even sleeping. Anxiety disorders are often co-morbid with chronic stress. 

The Symptoms of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can cause people to act out in certain ways, oftentimes in very different ways than they usually behave. Common symptoms include:

  • Increased irritability
  • An inability to focus on daily tasks
  • Feelings of low self-esteem or helplessness
  • Feeling out of control

The Physical Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can lead to physical symptoms, as well. Without effective intervention, chronic stress patients may develop: 

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Acne
  • Depression
  • Digestive disorders
  • Enhanced sensitivity to pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Impaired Memory
  • Headaches

Treating Chronic Stress  

A combination of CBT and lifestyle changes often work well for patients with chronic stress. A CBT approach involves identifying stressors and then developing coping techniques. For some patients, just making lifestyle changes can be effective, but in the vast majority of cases some combination of CBT and lifestyle adjustments produces the best results.

Acute Stress Disorder

A sudden death in the family, falling victim to a serious crime, or a sudden onset event such as an accident can lead to an acute stress disorder.   

In chronic stress, the stressor is ever-present. In an acute stress disorder, however, the patient experiences ongoing stress in the aftermath of a one-time event. The feelings of trauma that occur in the moment of the event remain with the individual for days or even weeks afterward.

An acute stress disorder typically involves elevated stress hormones form more than three days but less than one month. If symptoms are present longer than a month, the patient may have an anxiety disorder. Symptoms that last for only a few days are usually indicative of a normal reaction to a stressful event. 

The Symptoms of an Acute Stress Disorder  

The symptoms of an acute stress disorder can be both physical and emotional. Symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of emotional numbness or detachment
  • Obliviousness to the outside world
  • Disassociation from reality
  • Forgetting details of the triggering event
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidance of anything that is reminiscent of the trauma
  • Feeling short of breath or shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Startling easily
  • Feeling on edge

Treating Acute Stress Disorder  

The first step in addressing an acute stress disorder often is ruling out other mental health issues. This can occur in either an in patient or outpatient setting. In some cases, a social worker may be involved, as well. In addition to CBT, therapists may employ medication such as SSRIs in treating the patient. 

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder is a disorder that affects those with unrealistic expectations for themselves and extremely high competitive drives. This disorder is similar to acute stress disorder in the sense that the feelings of stress are sudden and intense but do not last in the long term. emotions are intense and not chronic. The triggers, however, do vary from those in an acute stress disorder.

Defining Episodic Acute Stress Disorder

Episodic Acute Stress Disorder is often misunderstood by others. It can seem as if the suffer is being dramatic or having an outsized reaction to a simple stressor. What others do not realize, however, is that the feelings of stress that these individuals experience are very real and very frightening to them.

In someone with this disorder, stressors that others may brush aside create an enormous amount of anxiety and stress in the patient. As an example, running late for a meeting may result in the patient thinking that they are about to be laid off, an unhealthy mental pattern referred to as “catastrophizing” in CBT. 

Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder

Many times, people with this disorder do not get help because they believe their reactions are appropriate to the situations involved. Others may dismiss them, as well. Symptoms of episodic stress include:

  • Irritability or uncontrolled anger
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Panic attack
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Muscular aches and pain

Without intervention, patients may develop health problems, including:

  • Heart problems
  • Migraines
  • Hypertension
  • Stomach ulcer

Treating Episodic Acute Stress

As with other mental health disorders, patients are often best served by making lifestyle changes, engaging in therapy, taking medication or some combination of those. A therapist may even go so far as to recommend making a large-scale lifestyle change, such as leaving a relationship.

As with other stress disorders, patients can use CBT to develop coping skills. Medication options may include SSRIs or Benzodiazepines that are used in the short term.