Stress and anxiety

The way I respond to cases of stress and anxiety is initially in letting a person tell their story. There is often a lot of emotion to discharge in the first one or two sessions, even whilst a trusting alliance is forming.  Some hold back their feelings as they attempt to establish exactly what is going on and what directions may work for them.  They may have emotional support outside the counselling setting and wish to get on with getting help with strategies and making decisions.

People have a variety of coping and learning styles, and so there is no set way counselling proceeds, in response to presenting issues of stress or anxiety.  There are a range of ways people become chronically stressed in the first place as well as a multitude of existing skills and capacities they bring with them into counselling.  The counselling journey will be different every time.

A little background on anxiety and stress:

Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, including:

  • Twitching or trembling
  • Muscle tension, headaches
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing
  • Abdominal pain (may be the only symptom of stress, especially in a child)

Sometimes other symptoms accompany anxiety:

  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea or frequent need to urinate
  • Fearful thoughts, dread
  • Irritability, including loss of your temper
  • Sleeping difficulties and nightmares
  • Decreased concentration and fatigue
  • Sexual problems, memory lapses, learning difficulties

Anxiety is simply defined as the physiological symptoms (raised heart rate, muscle tension, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling) and mental/emotional symptoms (fearful anticipation, sense of threat, distrust). Along with muscular and emotional tension, it is the most identifiable symptom of stress.

When stress is sustained over long periods, the accompanying bodily or mental tension can lead to physical illness.

We all know what stress feels like, but perhaps you don’t realise there are various types of stress:

Eustress. This is good stress that occurs for a very short period of time before an important event. It often results in increased creativity, strength, concentration, enthusiasm and overall mental and physical performance.

Distress. This is the opposite of eustress, and it’s bad stress. Distress can be related to constant changes in your routine, whether small or big. Acute distress can be over quickly but chronic distress can last weeks to years.  Distress is another way of describing ‘overwhelm’, where one’s normal coping strategies are not sufficient to deal with sudden or chronic circumstances.

Hyperstress. This type of stress affects those who are chronically overworked. The classic example here would be stock-market traders who are habituated to living and working with high adrenaline levels.

Hypostress. Hypostress is the opposite of hyperstress and it affects those who aren’t challenged enough or bored with their work or with there lives in general.  This absence of any stress can create an uninspired void for a person, where symptoms of fatigue, depression or negativity can develop.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As the name indicates, this type of stress follows a trauma of some sort. Military, rescue and police personnel can experience post-traumatic stress disorder when they have witnessed or participated in shocking scenes in the course of duty, as do members of families, workplaces or communities where physical, psychological or emotional violence has occurred.