Is My Stress Level Escalating Out of Control?
Stress refers to the ways in which your body responds to the high demands of everyday living. And, although we’re about to highlight the bad rap that stress has acquired in our modern world, stress itself isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, there are times when your body’s reaction to stress serves an adaptive, or performance enhancing function. “Good” stress can equip you with the adrenaline-fueled laser focus that you need in order to ace Dr. Ramowitz’s impossible Physics exam, or to sink that winning lacrosse goal during the state championships.
And then, there are those times when stress isn’t so constructive—like when the pressure to achieve perfection works against you to diminish your performance.
Instead of feeling more alert during that Physics exam, you sink down into your seat and stare at your blank test answers, feeling sick to your stomach, and utterly debilitated. All of those acceleration and free fall on an elevator problems that you knew inside-and-out twenty minutes before that test paper graced your hands? Yeah, completely banished from your memory!
But you’re not alone: for a surprising number of Americans—77% to be exact—chronic stress is the background fuzz of everyday existence. Even non-crippling stress can take its toll: 60% of all human illnesses can be attributed to the long-term destructive impact of stress. Given the modern stress epidemic, it’s no wonder that the American Institute for Stress identifies at least 50 adverse side effects of the condition!
Listed below are some warning signs that your stress level may be escalating out of hand:
The Signs & Symptoms of Stress Overwhelm
- Generalized anxiety, panic attacks, or stress-induced tremors
- Cardiac symptoms, including hypertension, angina, or rapid heart rate
- Heart attack or stroke
- Digestive upsets, including diarrhea, acid reflux, nausea, or constipation
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Overactive bladder
- Underactive sex drive
- Impaired immune system function: viruses, infections, and cold sores—oh my!
- Skin conditions: rashes and hives
- Depression: feeling defeated, drowning in responsibilities, feeling inadequate, or dejected
- Cognitive disruptions: impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, racing or sluggish thoughts
- Sleeping too often (hypersomnia) or too little (insomnia), nightmares, or chronic fatigue
- Irritability: impatience, snapping at loved ones or strangers, or dissolving into angry tears
- Aches & Pains: headaches, muscle aches, or neck and back pain
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Harmful drug or alcohol consumption to “take the edge off”
- Decline in social, romantic, occupational, or academic functioning, and more+
What Common Events Trigger The Stress Response?
Although pretty much anything can fire up the good ol’ stress machine, listed below are 8 of the most commonly encountered stressors in therapy sessions that target stress reduction:
8 Common Sources of Everyday Life Stress
- Financial/Work difficulties: losing your job; starting or searching for a new position; receiving the additional work responsibilities entailed in a promotion; tolerating unfriendly, bigoted, or incompetent co-workers; overwhelming or unreasonable workloads; drowning in debt; and unexpected financial hardships (see: any car repair ever)
- Academic stressors: pop quizzes, midterms, and finals; departing for college; starting middle or high school; difficult project overload; combatting destructive perfectionism; striking a healthy balance between education and social life (for bookworms and chronic partiers alike)
- Relationships: surviving breakups and divorces; resolving disagreements and resentments; recovering from infidelity; learning how to successfully cohabitate (without murdering each other); supporting a partner through a physical/mental illness or addiction
- Weddings: bridezillas and in-laws—enough said!
- Births: prepping to become first-time parents; rearing colicky babies; permanent sleep deprivation; postpartum depression; pregnancy or becoming pregnant complications
- Deaths: losing a beloved family member, friend, romantic partner, or pet
- Moving: the frustrations of the job search; missing old friends; coping with emotions of loneliness or homesickness; hating your new city or town
- Illness or Mental Health: receiving and coping with a diagnosis of chronic illness (cancer, HIV, diabetes, etc.) or mental health (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse)
How Can Counseling for Stress Management Improve My Stress Level?
Your life is already busy enough as it is! You shouldn’t have to take on the additional responsibility of trying to solve all of your “stuck” stress problems on your own. At Lifeologie, our team of 30+ counselors works collaboratively to ensure that your stress management program is customized to address your unique lifestyle and specific stress reduction needs. We do all of the behind-the-scenes dirty work to guarantee that you can kick back and relax! Although each of our stress management plans is tailored to fit the individual, your therapist may suggest the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to help you:
- Identify the major sources of stress in your life
- Recognize how maladaptive thinking patterns—for example, blowing the significance of events out of proportion, justifying procrastination, or insisting on perfection—can contribute to the maintenance of unhealthy stress
- Replace destructive thoughts with constructive beliefs and modify your behavior to reflect the principles of good stress hygiene
- Exploration of complex life issues that exacerbate your stress level (for example: a recent divorce, the death of a parent, being laid off by your employer)
- Treatment to target co-occurring issues (for example: substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD resulting from an incident of sexual assault)
- Couples or Family therapy, to discuss stressors that strain romantic relationships and family dynamics
- Relaxation techniques, including:
- Mindfulness, meditation, or psychotherapeutic yoga
- Guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation
- Biofeedback or autogenic relaxation techniques that help you gain control over the body’s stress reaction
- Writing in a journal
- Engaging in healthy habits, such as clean eating and regular exercise, that are known to reduce stress by improving your immune system function and boosting your endorphin levels
- Reconnecting you with hobbies that you love to help you begin enjoying life once more!