What is Stress Management Therapy?
Stress is a normal part of most people’s lives. However, this emotion can spiral out of control if left unmanaged. At that point, stress can keep people from living healthy, happy lives. Mental health professionals can help people manage stress, either to avoid or reverse this issue.
Why Do People Feel Stress?
People first began feeling stress as a way of keeping ourselves safe. Early humans knew that danger was near because the body would warn them with stress signals. This is not only a natural reaction, but it also kept people safe.
Today, stress can still serve this purpose. However, we also feels stress as a reaction to things that do not threaten our physical safety. When those feelings linger, they can cause problems.
Tools for Stress Management
Counselors and therapists can help clients manage their stress in healthy ways. Stress management tools include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), lifestyle changes, and medication.
CBT is one of the most common forms of therapy. It can help with all kinds of emotional situations, including stress. During CBT, patients work with therapists to identify what is stressing them. Then, they uncover ways to deal with that stress and turn the negative thinking around.
An important way of managing stress is to manage the things that cause the stress in the first place. For example, someone who is often stressed about work may need to find ways to delegate tasks and take time off. Therapists can also help people find ways to bring stress levels down through lifestyle changes.
In some cases, medication may be necessary to help people deal with stress. However, the types of medications that people use for stress can cause dependence. That’s why it’s important to work closely with a psychiatrist who does medication management.
The Many Types of Stress
We can categorize stress into three major types: chronic, acute, and episodic. People may have just one of these types of stress or all three.
Long-term situations like jobs, financial problems, and unhealthy relationships cause chronic stress. Patients with chronic stress feel the effects of the worry almost every single day for months or even years.
Over time, chronic stress causes an increase of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. Such imbalance can lead to physical illnesses and insomnia.
The Symptoms of Chronic Stress
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating at school or work
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Frequent headaches
- Digestive system discomfort
- Low self-esteem
The Effects of Chronic Stress
Over time, the increased presence of cortisol and adrenaline can lead to physical problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Anxiety disorders
- Trouble with memory
Treatment Options for Chronic Stress
Mental health professionals often recommend a combination of CBT and lifestyle changes to treat chronic stress. First, therapists help identify what’s causing the stress. Then, patients and counselors can decide how best to address these issues.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress is an intense feeling that happens after a traumatic event. For example, if a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, a patient may have acute stress. Other triggering events may be witnessing a violent crime, the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster.
Unlike with chronic stress, the stressors in acute stress is not ongoing. Although the original even may only last a few moments, the emotional repercussions can last weeks. If a person continues to experiences stress for longer than a month, the person may have an anxiety disorder or PTSD.
The Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder
- Being easily startled
- Feeling especially irritable
- Being emotionally distant
- Reducing awareness of surroundings
- Flashbacks or nightmares about the stressor
- Trouble sleepings
- A complete blackout of the memories surrounding the event
- Panic attacks
- Disassociating from reality
- Avoiding anything related to the stressor
Treating Acute Stress Disorder
First, professionals may conduct a full psychiatric evaluation to see if PTSD or other anxiety disorders are to blame. After the evaluation, the professionals may recommend CBT and/or medication.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
People with Episodic Acute Stress Disorder experience extreme emotional reactions to relatively small things in life. Many people with this type of stress are described as “Type A” or “perfectionist. Even the smallest failing can make people with this disorder feel worthless.
The “acute” part of this disorder name means that people experience brief, yet intense, bursts of stress. However, the triggers are ongoing and internal. People with this disorder are not simply dramatic or needing attention. They feel the stress as real threats.
The Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
- Unmanaged irritability
- Muscle tightness not explained by injury or exercise
- Chronic problems with digestion
- High pulse
- Recurrent panic attacks
Physical symptoms can stem from untreated Episodic Acute stress, including:
- Heart disease
- Chronic headaches
- High blood pressure
Treating Episodic Acute Stress
CBT and lifestyle changes are often the most effective treatments for this type of stress. However, people with extreme episodic acute stress may also need medication.