What is Stress Management
Stress is a typical reaction that people have to the adverse events in life. Like other negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, some amount of stress can be part of a healthy mental state. However, people may struggle with stress if it becomes unmanageable or if a patient does not acquire healthy coping skills, it can lead to an unhealthy mental state.
The Role of Stress
In life-threatening situations, stress can save lives. For example, cave dwellers experienced this pressure when large animals chased them. The famous fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, which helped the species continue. However, modern people do not face the same types of troubles.
Instead, we may feel the fight-or-flight instinct in response to relationship problems or difficulty at work. Sometimes, stress can still be a life-saver. For example, soldiers on the front lines often feel understandable stress in war zones. However, that feeling can come home with them, which causes PTSD.
Common Stress Management Techniques
Therapists can help patients identify healthy and unhealthy levels of stress to serve as benchmarks. Then, they work together to come up with coping strategies.
Cognitive Therapy for Stress Management
The most popular form of stress management therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). With CBT, patients learn to identify unhealthy stress at the moment. They can then use the coping strategies they learn in therapy to overcome the adverse reactions. Patients reroute their thinking, which leads to healthier behaviors.
Lifestyle Changes for Stress Management
Therapists and psychiatrists may also recommend lifestyle changes as part of stress management therapy. For example, someone may have too much stress because they do not delegate their daily tasks. Their therapist can help them identify which things they can let go and allow someone else to complete them. Similarly, a therapist may recommend physical exercise as a way to work through the stress.
Medication as Part of Stress Management
When someone experiences severe stress, psychiatrists may recommend medications for relief. Psychiatrists provide medication management for stress sparingly, as they can be addictive. However, the benefits may outweigh the risks in certain situations.
Types of Stress
Unhealthy stress can come in several different forms, including chronic, acute, and episodic. Some patients experience more than one type of stress as well. With each of these types, the stress is intense enough to keep the client from living daily life as usual.
Each of these types of stress can cause physical ailments as well. Disordered stress can cause headaches, trouble sleeping, chest pain, weight fluctuations, and more.
Patients must know that disordered stress is treatable. They do not have to live with these feelings forever. The sections below detail each of the stress disorders and what treatments can help.
Chronic Stress Disorder
People who have long-term stressors in their lives can have Chronic Stress Disorder. If someone has a high-pressure job, consistent relationship problems, or numerous financial difficulties, he or she can struggle with unhealthy stress levels nearly every day.
What is Chronic Stress?
A patient with chronic stress almost constantly experiences elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels. These feelings cause the patient to always feel on high-alert, have difficulty relaxing, and even develop anxiety disorders.
Chronic stress is typically a response to one or more long-term triggers. For example, someone with a chronically ill loved one may feel stressed more often than not in their daily lives. Over time, this becomes chronic stress that can have several physical and mental effects.
Signs of Chronic Stress
Someone with chronic stress disorder may exhibit several troubling symptoms. The build-up of stress over time may cause them to act out or behave differently than they used to. While this disorder affects everyone differently, some common symptoms include:
- Extreme or unusual irritability
- Difficulty concentrating on daily tasks
- Frequent headaches
- Low self-esteem
- Changes in appetite and digestion
- Sleeping problems
- Feeling out-of-control
Chronic Stress Effects
The signs of chronic stress are just some of the things that this disorder can cause in the body. Over a long enough period, people with chronic stress may develop additional complications of the body and mind. Without treatment, these patients may develop:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Memory disorders
- Digestive disorders
Chronic Stress Treatment
CBT and lifestyle changes often help people with chronic stress disorder manage their symptoms. In therapy, patients identify their significant stressors. The therapist then works with the patient to learn how to cope with these problems.
In some cases, lifestyle changes are enough on their own. However, most patients also need CBT to learn coping mechanisms that they can carry into every aspect of their lives.
Acute Stress Disorder
Sometimes life presents challenges that bring on extreme stress all at once. When a patient has a loved one that dies or feels the threat of injury to themselves or a loved one, she or he may develop acute stress disorder. For example, a severe trauma, such as being the victim of a violent crime, can trigger this type of stress.
What is Acute Stress Disorder
Whereas chronic stress disorder is the response to an ongoing trigger, acute stress disorder is a continuing response to a one-time stressor. It is not the reaction a person has in the moment of trauma, which is often healthy and expected stress. Instead, the person carries that intensity of tension into the following days or weeks.
With acute stress disorder, the person may have elevated stress hormones as a response to an event for three days to one month. Less than three days of stress may be a normal reaction to an event. More than one month of this reaction may be an anxiety disorder.
Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms
Like other types of stress, acute stress disorder has both physical and emotional symptoms. Although it varies between patients, people with this disorder may present with:
- Emotional unresponsiveness
- Less awareness of the world around them
- Disassociation from reality
- Amnesia about the triggering event
- Flashbacks to the trauma in which they feel as though it’s happening again in real life
- Avoiding specific people or places
- Trouble sleeping
- Startling easily
Acute Stress Disorder Treatment
Professionals may start by ruling out other disorders that can cause similar symptoms. They may also complete full psychiatric evaluations to determine the patient’s level of care needs. This process helps doctors decide if a person needs in-patient care for their safety.
Social workers may help if the person needs social services to deal with the trauma. A therapist can use CBT and other treatment styles to help the patient. Furthermore, some clients may need psychiatric help in the form of medication.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
This type of stress commonly affects the kind of people that others refer to as “Type A.” Patients experience outsized stress in reaction to stimuli. Sometimes, the stress is the result of unrealistic expectations of themselves. Like with acute stress disorder, the emotions are intense and not chronic. However, the triggers are different.
What is Episodic Acute Stress Disorder?
Someone with episodic acute stress experiences intense stress and life-or-death feelings in response to relatively mundane stressors. Although others may call these people “overly dramatic,” they just do not understand that Episodic Acute Stress Disorder is a real disease. Furthermore, the person with the disorder feels genuine stress that may make them think these situations are life-or-death.
For example, someone may miss a deadline at work and immediately begin having an outsized reaction. Even if the person’s boss is not too angry, the patient may start thinking that she will lose her job, become homeless, and die on the streets. To her, the panic is a reasonable reaction, but in reality, it is hurting her.
Signs of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
It can be difficult for people with this disorder to get the treatment they need because they feel as though the stress is the right reaction and their support system may dismiss the symptoms. Some signs of episodic stress include:
- Irritability or uncontrolled anger
- Rapid heartbeat
- Panic attack
- Heartburn and other gastrointestinal troubles
- Muscular pain and tightness
Left untreated, this disorder can lead to larger health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Frequent headaches
Episodic Acute Stress Treatment
Lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication can all be part of a treatment plan for Episodic Acute Stress Disorder. Therapists may recommend lifestyle changes such as changing jobs or starting a physical exercise routine. CBT can help patients learn how to react to triggers healthily. Medication can help in those times when the stress is too much for the patient to handle.