At any point in our daily lives, we might experience stress. It’s quite common to the human experience. Sometimes, though, people experience stress so severe that it stops them from going about their daily lives. In these cases, mental health professionals can step in, providing guidance and intervention to help individuals deal with stress.
Why We Get Stressed
Stress developed early on in human existence as a way for humans to defend themselves against predators. A strong stress response acted as an alarm, warning early humans when danger was near.
Today, we do not necessarily need this stress response as often as we did 30,000 years ago. For some of us, however, it is still ever-present, triggering us even when danger is not near. This can lead to a permanent state of stress that makes life for some very difficult.
How We Can Manage Stress
Those looking to manage stress effectively can benefit greatly from turning to our clinic and one of our mental health professionals. They can develop a plan of intervention for you that involves any number of things, including therapy, medication, and more. i
One form of therapy that works very well in dealing with stress is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. As a talk therapy, CBT allows patients to explore their lives and identify ways in which their stress response gets triggered. Patients can then learn coping mechanisms for dealing with these triggers effectively.
Making Changes to Your Lifestyle
In some cases, a therapist may recommend making changes to your lifestyle. There are many things in our lives that can trigger stress, including relationships, school, and work. Sometimes something as small as an adjustment to a work schedule can make a big difference. You cannot always eliminate stressors entirely, but small changes can help.
When stress is very intense or affecting your physical health, your mental health professional may recommend medication. Medications for stress can be addictive, so engaging in ongoing medication management with your psychiatrist is the best approach.
Different Forms of Stress
Stress can come in chronic, acute, or episodic acute forms. Each of these has their own symptoms that manifest in very different ways.
As discussed above, there are some aspects of life that come with stress but that we cannot eliminate from our lives, including work and money. When stress stems from issues such as these, it can manifest as chronic stress, lasting for long stretches of time.
Chronic stress can have a strong impact on one’s physical health. Experiencing stress day in and day out can lead to insomnia and serious physical conditions.
Chronic Stress Symptoms
Symptoms of chronic stress include:
- An inability to concentrate
- Frequent headache
- Feeling you have lost control
- Heightened irritability
- Low self-esteem
- Stomach/digestive issues
- Feelings of hopelessness
The Effect of Chronic Stress on Physical Health
Serious physical or comorbid problems that can come with chronic stress include:
- Memory issues
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- Extreme weight gain or loss
How to Treat Chronic Stress
Many therapists will recommend a combination of therapy and lifestyle changes when a patient is dealing with chronic stress. One of the most popular therapies used is CBT. Lifestyle changes may include beginning an exercise regime or maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
Acute Stress Disorder
Sometimes, when an individual experiences an unexpected trauma, they may develop an acute stress disorder as a result. An acute stress disorder is a short term response to the trauma, but can still last for weeks or even months. It will not, however, remain in the long term as chronic stress would.
Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms patients can experience in acute stress include:
- Scaring or startling easily
- Blocking out the trauma or experiencing flashbacks
- Panic attacks
- Avoiding others, social settings, or triggers
- Being unaware of surroundings
- Remaining emotionally distant from others
Treating Acute Stress Disorder
Ruling out any comorbid conditions may be the first step. Once a therapist determines that an acute stress disorder is the correct diagnosis, they will develop a therapeutic approach that suits your needs and many include both CBT and medication.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
Many people who have perfectionist tendencies or have a Type A personality sometimes experience something known as Episodic Acute Stress Disorder. In this form of stress, the individual has a significant stress reaction to a comparatively small trigger.
The brief but intense episodes of stress in this disorder are not related to external triggers. Rather, the patient themselves is triggering the stress with their own internal thinking or expectations. While sometimes mischaracterized as “dramatic”, these episodes are very real and intense.
The Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
Symptoms that someone with Episodic Acute Stress Disorder may experience include:
- Muscle aches and tightness with no physical trigger
- Digestion problems
- Panic attacks
- Increased heart rate
- Uncontrollable anger
Patients with untreated Episodic Acute stress can experience physical symptoms, including:
- Chronic headaches
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Treatment for Episodic Acute Stress
Treating episodic stress often involves some form of therapy in tandem with recommended lifestyle changes. Sometimes, medication may be necessary, as well, in order to reduce anxiety.