Stress is a normal experience, but we all know it can cause problems, too.

What’s on your “to-do” list today? Have you accomplished everything on it? Or have you thrown it out of the window because it feels like a mountain of responsibilities? Who’s pulling at you today? Is it your boss, your kids, your parents, or your significant other? Did you pay your bills this month? Do you have time to work out today? The laundry list of responsibilities goes on and on. It can seem never-ending.

Life responsibilities are unavoidable, which causes stress. And life doesn’t stop to relieve the pressure. That’s why we have to figure out how to alleviate it ourselves. That’s not an easy task, but it’s possible!

What is Stress?

Stress is a normal reaction that the body and mind experience in response to a demand or threat. A stress response is designed to protect us and help us adapt to situations by making our bodies alert. Sometimes, this helps us avoid very real dangers.

When our bodies experience stress, our autonomic nervous system goes into overdrive. This creates physical responses like increased heart rate. These changes temporarily increase strength, improve stamina, speed up reaction time, and intensify our focus.

Although these are all positive transformations, our bodies are not designed to experience them repeatedly in a short amount of time. In fact, long term activation of this process can lead to physical and emotional harm.

Stress can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burned out. A woman in a white sweater sits in front of her computer looking stressed while two small children play behind her.

What is a Stressor?

A stressor is anything that is interpreted as being negative or threatening. There are some stressors that would be interpreted by just about anyone as being stressful. A clear example would be a natural disaster, like a tornado. However, a stressor doesn’t need to be interpreted by everyone as stressful to be considered a stressor. Rather, our subjective experiences shape how we interpret our environment. Because of this, a stressor for one person may not be a stressor for their friend, spouse, or sibling. That means sometimes family members and friends have a hard time empathizing in circumstances they can’t relate to. 

What Are the Common Symptoms of Stress?

How do you know when you are experiencing stress? Have you noticed that others respond to stress in the same way that you do? The fact is that everyone responds to it differently. Some of the common symptoms of stress include:

  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • sadness
  • feeling helpless
  • overeating 
  • anxiety
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • inattention
  • body aches
  • withdrawing from others

COVID-19 & Stress

Who thought we would be faced with a pandemic in our lifetime? The sudden onset of this virus propelled our lives into a new normal that includes isolation, wearing masks, and juggling more tasks than are manageable. Adults have been asked to work from home. Employers have been tasked with trying to continue business as usual, while providing safety for customers and nurturing their staff. Children are simultaneously being taught from home by their parents who have had to learn to become teachers.

Most people feel like they’re drowning. Despite seeing everyone else suffering at the same time, the experience feels lonely and overwhelming. COVID-19 seems to be never-ending. The looming danger that it presents has kept everyone on edge, increasing stress across the board. However, some people have experienced it considerably more than others. 

Stress surrounding COVID-19 can affect anyone. A woman wearing a red sweater and a surgical mask runs her hands through her hair while looking stressed.

Do I Have a Psychological Disorder?

Experiencing stress is completely normal. Who doesn’t experience stress from time to time? That means it can be hard to determine if your experience of stress warrants a psychological disorder diagnosis. There are some ways to discern this. First, do you find that your stress response persists even when the stressor is removed? Second, do you find that your reaction to stressors causes its own intense distress? Third, does your stress response prevent you from engaging in daily activities, like attending meetings at work, asking for assistance at the grocery store, or joining a social gathering? Fourth, are you developing unhealthy habits as a result of trying to cope with your stress?

Because experiencing stress creates a negative sensation, everyone is motivated to get rid of it. However, most people rely on unhealthy techniques to either avoid or bury the feeling of stress. Common maladaptive techniques include using illegal drugs, smoking cigarettes, compulsive shopping, excessive alcohol consumption, and gambling. Although engagement in these activities allow for some stress relief in the moment, most will cause undesirable long-term effects. 

Can Therapy Help?

Stress management therapy can help you face stressful circumstances head-on. The first step is trying to eliminate stressors in your life. At face value, that seems like an obvious task. However, it’s often challenging because the emotional response to stressful situations makes it difficult to problem solve. Problem solving is crucial to identifying and eliminating stressors in your life. Psychological counseling or therapy can help you in that process.

Some stressors are unavoidable and require other interventions. One option is to work on adjusting perspective taking and working on reducing thought distortions like catastrophizing. Another method is to engage in coping skills. Because stress causes such a strong physiological response, it is often difficult to soothe our bodies. This leaves us feeling guarded, prepared to freeze, fight, or flee. In therapy, you will learn techniques to slow your system down, allowing your body and mind to heal. Engaging in psychological counseling will prevent you from feeling alone when you’re overwhelmed. 

How Do I Get Help?

Stress will always be part of your life. There’s no way around it. However, the way you handle stress can change. Reach out to us today, and the therapists at Sentience Psychological Services can partner with you to help you survive stressful times and find new ways to thrive. 

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