What is Stress Management
Like anger, stress is a normal part of even the healthiest person. It can, however, become so intense that it interferes with someone’s quality of life. Patients with an unhealthy amount of stress need to learn coping mechanisms via an intervention commonly referred to as “stress management.”
Stress in our Lives
While stigmatized, stress is natural and even useful. After all, having a stress reaction to an attacking animal served our earliest ancestors well. Today, we do not face the same dangers as ancient humans, but we still have many of the same psychological responses, including stress.
Stress today is triggered by things such as relationships, jobs, or money. Stress can also occur in highly traumatic environments such as war, first serving to protect the individual but then, in some cases, leading to mental disorders such as PTSD.
Common Techniques for Stress Management
As a starting point, patients in session work to recognize what “healthy” or “unhealthy” stress means. They can then begin to develop coping mechanisms that can help them maintain a healthy relationship to stress.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly referred to as CBT, is one of the most popular interventions for unhealthy stress. In CBT, patients learn to alter their negative thought patterns so that they can experience more balanced and healthier lives.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Patients can also make changes to their lifestyles that help with unhealthy levels of stress. An overworked individual, for example, might learn to delegate. Introducing exercise into one’s life can also be an effective way to create change when it comes to stress. A therapist can help a patient identify the best techniques for them.
Medication for Stress Management
In severe cases, a psychiatrist may want a patient to get on anti-anxiety medications. While these can be very effective, they can also be addictive. Patient and therapist must weigh the risks and benefits in considering medication for stress.
Different Types of Stress
Stress can be acute, chronic or episodic, and patients can experience multiple forms of this disorder. In all types of stress, the stress is so intense that it interferes with the person’s quality of life. Any type of stress can lead to physical distress, as well, including weight loss, insomnia, and even heart pain.
Stress is manageable with the right guidance, and patients should understand that there is help available to them. The following detail the different types of stress and the treatments typically used to treat them.
Chronic Stress Disorder
Long-term things in life such as jobs or relationships can cause Chronic Stress Disorder. A patient with this type of stress experiences it every day for extended periods of time.
What is Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress happens in response to long-term triggers, such as a chronic illness in the family. It also elevates the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. This physical reaction can leave the patient unable to relax or even sleep. Eventually, the patient may also develop an anxiety disorder.
Signs of Chronic Stress
Signs of chronic stress vary from patient to patient, but they can include:
- Extreme irritability that may not be characteristic of the individual
- Faulty concentration
- Low self-esteem
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of helplessness or losing control
The Long-Term Effects of Chronic Stress on Individuals
The symptoms of chronic stress can lead to long-term physical and psychological ailments. Chronic stress can lead to:
- Heart disease
- Weight loss or gain
- Anxiety disorders
- Memory disorders
- Digestive disorders
Chronic Stress Treatment
CBT is one of the most effective treatments for chronic stress. Patients work to identify the triggers of their stress and then implement effective coping mechanisms that they can implement in multiple areas of life. Lifestyle changes, such as beginning an exercise regime or journaling, can also help when done in tandem with CBT.
Acute Stress Disorder
Sometimes an unexpected event can cause a stress disorder. The sudden loss of a job or loved one, for example, can lead to what is known as acute stress disorder.
What is Acute Stress Disorder
In acute stress disorder, the trigger is a single, relatively brief event. The stress reaction to this, however, continues long after the inciting trauma. Acute stress can last for days or weeks, but is not long-term like chronic stress.
Stress hormones in the patient can rise for several days after the trauma. Anything less than three days may simply be a normal stress response to that trauma. When acute stress continues for longer than a month, the patient may have an anxiety disorder.
The Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder
As with chronic stress, acute stress may cause changes in the body and the mind. While symptoms vary, patients may exhibit:
- Emotional apathy
- Obliviousness to what goes on around them
- An inability to remember the triggering event
- Avoidant behavior
- Anxiety and irritability
- Scaring easily
Treating Acute Stress Disorder
A mental health professional may run a differential diagnosis to make sure that any other issues are not at play in acute stress. The therapist may also need to determine whether a patient needs inpatient care in the interim to ensure their safety.
Sometimes, social workers step in to help patients address trauma, too. Therapeutic and psychiatric modalities used to treat acute stress disorder include CBT and medication.
Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
We are all familiar with the Type A personality. This person is driven and holds themselves to what seems an impossibly high standard. This personality type often develops what is known as an episodic acute stress disorder in which they have larger than life reactions to triggers. While these reactions are acute and intense as in acute stress disorder, a patient with episodic acute stress disorder is triggered by very different things.
What is Episodic Acute Stress Disorder?
The triggers in episodic acute stress disorder may seem almost mundane to others, leading them to mislabel or misunderstand the person suffering from the disorder. The patient with episodic acute stress disorder experiences real and intense stress that feels very dangerous to them.
Take as an example, someone whose boss is unhappy with them. The person with episodic acute stress disorder may extrapolate from that incident that they will soon be jobless, impoverished, and homeless. This may seem reasonable and real to the individual, but it interferes greatly with their ability to conduct a normal life.
Signs of Episodic Acute Stress Disorder
People with this disorder often do not seek help. This is down to two reasons: one, they may think their reactions normal and, two, others may dismiss or belittle their reactions. It is important, therefore, to learn to identify the signs of this disorder, including:
- Anger they cannot control
- Increased heart rate
- Panic attacks
- Heartburn and stomach troubles
- Muscular pain and tightness
When patients do not seek help, they can get physical symptoms as well, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Frequent headaches
Treating Episodic Acute Stress
Treating this mental health disorder can involve medication, lifestyle changes, and therapy. The patient and therapist will work to uncover what works best. In some cases, a person may need to make a significant change, such as leaving a job. Therapy often involves CBT so that patients can identify triggers and learn coping skills. When stress levels are too high or triggered by the process, medication can help.