Stress is something we all feel from time to time. It helps us react quickly and effectively to demanding situations. Hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, that are released during stress initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response, which physically prepares the body for action. As such, in most situations stress is very useful. For example, it can help motivate you for a work deadline. However, when stress is overwhelming and prolonged, it can be quite harmful. It can impact on your mood, physical health, behaviour, relationships and daily functioning.

Treatment for stress

How you experience stress depends on a range of things: the situation causing the stress, your personality and coping skills, and support network. Some common causes of stress are: financial strain, relationship problems, moving house, work or school, changes within a family (for example, a child being born or a marital separation), and career challenges.

What are the signs and symptoms of stress?

  • Changes in mood. Stress can affect your mood in a variety of ways. Some people find themselves feeling irritable and angry. They may feel like they are going to explode from the pressure at any moment. For others, stress can cause constant worry and nervousness. You might notice your mind racing and struggle to relax. For example, you may be preoccupied with worry about Monday’s tasks, despite it being the weekend. Chronic stress can also lead to more serious difficulties such as Depression or Anxiety.
  • Stress affects your memory and ability to concentrate. You may struggle to focus at school or work and be increasingly forgetful. For example, you may have just been introduced to someone, yet instantly forget their name. Or, you may arrive at the supermarket and forget what you needed to buy.
  • Upset stomach. You may feel nauseous or have a churning-like sensation in the pit of your stomach. You may experience indigestion, or have diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Headaches and other aches and pains. Muscle tension may cause neck and back pain, which often migrates to the head.
  • Changes in appetite. You may have lost your appetite or struggle to prioritise eating. Just the thought of eating can make you feel physically sick. For others, stress may cause hunger, causing you to eat more than usual. It is also common to ‘comfort eat’ as a way of coping with feeling overwhelmed.
  • Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. You may experience tightness in the chest, a rapid heart beat and sweat more than usual. You may also find yourself biting your nails. Stress can also cause you to feel out of control.

What are the effects of stress?

  • You may feel sensitive and run-down. You may be extra reactive and take things personally. You may struggle to care about other people or their issues, and feel like you could crack at any moment. Generally, intense stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed.
  • Thoughts and worry preoccupy your mind. You may find yourself often in a daze and not fully concentrating. For example, you may find yourself pulling into your driveway, unable to recall the last 15 minutes of your journey. Or, perhaps you mindlessly go through your morning routine and lose track of time.
  • Weight loss or gain. The anxious state of the body burns energy and your hunger cues are switched off – who has time to eat in survival mode? On the other hand, a lot of people eat excessively to try and cope or avoid their distressing feelings.
  • Disorganisation and procrastination. Stress affects your ability to concentrate and focus. You may become hyper-focused on some tasks, blocking out other important tasks. For example, all your energy may be poured into work or school, but your home may be a mess with washing/dishes piling up. It is also common to struggle to complete tasks, or start them at all.
  • Impatient and on edge. You may get easily frustrated and have little patience. For example, you may snap or yell at your loved ones. Or, you may feel frustrated when stuck in traffic or in a cue at the supermarket.
  • Weakened immune system. Stress puts a lot of pressure on the immune system and leaves you susceptible to illness. You may catch more colds than usual and need sick days from work or school.
  • Poor school or work performance. The mental and physical exhaustion from stress can leave you struggling to complete tasks. As well, when you feel overwhelmed, you might avoid certain tasks or procrastinate.
  • Your relationships may suffer. You may get easily annoyed at your friends or family. The physical symptoms can also take a toll on you, causing you to struggle with intimacy – that is, cuddling or sex is counterintuitive when our body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Or, you may be constantly checking emails or responding to work calls when you’re at home. This can lead to feelings of disconnection, and create arguments and tension within your relationship.
  • Sleep difficulties. Your mind does not stop, even in bed! You may lay awake worrying about your situation at all hours of the night. Sometimes stress can lead to insomnia. Or, you might be so exhausted from all the stress and sleep more than usual. Regardless of whether you sleep barely at all or a lot, you probably feel fatigued throughout the day.
  • Unhealthy coping strategies. For example, you may find yourself drinking, smoking or taking drugs in an attempt to relax. Or, you may eat junk foods excessively to cope with your distressing feelings.
  • Heart disease. Stress places stress on the heart! Adrenaline also causes increased blood pressure, which places further strain on the cardiovascular system. As well, stress can distract you from a healthy way of living, which includes exercise, eating and sleeping well, and relaxing.

How can I treat my stress?

There are a few well-researched treatments that are effective in treating stress, including Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

We are experienced and trained in treating psychological difficulties like stress. If you are experiencing Stress and would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.