What is Stress Management?
Stress management therapy helps patients discover healthy coping mechanisms for the things that stress them out in life. Of course, all people have some stress throughout daily life. However, some people experience stress so intensely that they find it difficult to manage. When stress takes over and makes all other feelings take a back seat, stress management therapy can help.
The Role of Stress
In some situations, stress is not only healthy but also life-saving. For example, this critical feeling would kick in when cave people sensed dangerous animals nearby. In today’s world, people may use the stress reaction to pay close attention while driving and avoid tragic car accidents.
Stress becomes unhealthy when people have the fight-or-flight response to stimuli that do not threaten their safety. For example, a big project at work may make the brain feel stressed, but it is not life-threatening. In some cases, people hold onto stress from truly threatening situations long after the danger has passed, as with people who live with PTSD.
Stress Management Techniques
Several types of stress management techniques can help patients cope with unhealthy stress. In each kind of stress management therapy, counselors work with patients to develop healthy coping mechanisms for their stressors.
Cognitive Therapy and Stress
One of the most popular types of therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can be effective for several mental illnesses and unhealthy behaviors. In stress management, CBT helps patients identify how unhealthy stress affects their lives. Throughout their days, they begin to identify this stress in the moment and use positive coping mechanisms to deal with it.
Lifestyle Changes for Stress Management
Certain changes in a person’s habits can help patients manage stress better. For example, people can need to establish routines that reduce triggers or build habits that increase happiness. Other individuals with unhealthy stress may need to learn to delegate some of their responsibilities. Finally, preemptive coping mechanisms, such as exercise, can keep people on track.
Medication as Part of Stress Management
In some severe cases, mental health professionals may recommend medication as a way to manage unhealthy stress. Since medications for stress can cause addictions, professionals only recommend this treatment in cases that present a danger to the patient’s life.
Types of Disordered Stress
Disordered stress can manifest in many unique ways, but professionals generally categorize stress into three types: chronic, acute, and episodic. Many patients live with more than one of these types of stress.
No matter what kinds of unhealthy stress patients live with, they do not have to deal with it forever. Effective treatments exist for all types of stress, as detailed in the sections below.
What is Chronic Stress Disorder?
Some stressors last for long periods of time and cause chronic stress disorder. These stressors include things like toxic relationships, high-pressure work environments, and persistent financial difficulties. People with chronic stress disorder experience high levels of stress nearly daily, which interrupts their lives.
The constant stress not only leaves patients feeling mentally drained, but it can hard their bodies too. People with chronic stress disorder may have elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are fine in short bursts but can lead to health problems over time. People with this disorder may also develop sleep problems, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders.
Signs of Chronic Stress
When chronic stress goes untreated, it can begin to take a toll on the body and mind. Some symptoms of chronic stress disorder include:
- Having trouble falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks for work or school
- Helpless or hopeless feelings
- Unexplained headaches often
- Trouble with digestion and changes in appetite
- A feeling that you are not in control of anything
- Extreme irritability
- Decreasing self-esteem
Chronic Stress Effects
When people go without treatment, chronic stress can seriously hurt the body. Untreated chronic stress disorder can put people at increased risk for:
- Heart disease
- Digestive disorder, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Anxiety disorders
- Trouble with memory
What is Acute Stress Disorder?
Sudden and intense trauma can cause people to develop acute stress disorder. Typically, this reaction lasts for up to a month after an extremely stressful event. The types of trauma that cause acute stress disorder usually involve harm to the person or someone they love. Some examples include being the victim of a violent crime or the death of a loved one.
While intense emotions and stress are healthy in the immediate aftermath of such a trigger, acute stress disorder means that a patient continues feeling that level of stress long after the initial wave of it. Typically, a strong reaction for up to three days after an event can be healthy.
Acute Stress Disorder Signs
As with all types of disordered stress and anxiety, people with acute stress disorder may present with emotional and physical symptoms. While each person in this situation is unique, some common symptoms include:
- Seeming emotionally distant from loved ones
- Being startled by sudden noises or movements
- Little awareness of one’s surroundings
- Uncharacteristic irritability
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Flashbacks to the traumatic event that feel like it’s happening all over again
- No memory of the original traumatic event
- Avoiding anything related to the traumatic event, including similar places
- Recurring panic attacks
- Dissociation from reality
Treatments for Acute Stress Disorder
Due to the nature of the traumatic events that cause acute stress disorder, treatments for this disorder may include things above and beyond those for chronic stress disorder. For example, people in crisis may need residential treatment or intervention from legal authorities. Furthermore, counselors may ask for help from social workers. These professionals can connect patients with resources they need.
What is Episodic Acute Stress Disorder?
People with this disorder experience extreme stress reactions to relatively minor triggers. Many people with this disorder have perfectionist or “Type A” personality traits. As such, they perceive any deviation away from perfection as a severe problem.
Unfortunately, some people write off these patients as “dramatic.” On the contrary, people with episodic acute stress disorder experience very real pain and discomfort in reaction to stimuli that may not bother others.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms
Unfortunately, the nature of episodic acute stress disorder leaves people believing that their outsized reactions are completely rational. As such, they may not see the need to seek treatment. That’s why it’s important to look for other signs that someone could benefit from therapy, including:
- Uncontrolled anger and irritability
- Tightness and pain in the muscles
- Rapid heart rate
- Recurring heartburn and other digestive issues
- Frequent panic attacks
Without treatment, patients with this disorder have increased risks of developing:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Recurring headaches
If you have trouble coping with stress in your life, call us today. We can connect you with mental health professionals who want to help.