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Stress is often defined as the body’s response to the demands of life, though stress also involves emotions and the mind. It is the internal, conditioned reaction of a person to perceived external pressures and is experienced as thoughts and feelings as well as physical processes. A mental health professional can often help treat any difficulties experienced as a result of coping with high levels of stress.
The American Institute of Stress calls stress “America’s leading health problem.” In many cases, the stress experienced by Americans today is felt in response to psychological threats, such as job loss or difficulty finding employment, the death of a loved one, or relationship issues, all of which may occur more than once in the course of life.
Stress evolved, however, in the form of a fight or flight response as a reaction to physical threats on one’s life. This response, which causes the physical aspects of stress—increased blood flow and clotting and elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar—is immediate and uncontrollable, and when these physical aspects affect the body several times over the course of a day, often as a result of issues such as workplace stress, bad traffic, or familial illness, they can influence the development of conditions such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes, chronic pain, and heart attacks.
Both positive and negative experiences and life transitions can lead to stress. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory shows this by indexing common stressful events and using a numerical value to rank the events, using these values to determine a person’s potential to become ill as a result of stress. Some of the more frequent stressors in life, most of which appear on the stress inventory, include:
These events are generally considered to be normal parts of the life cycle. Not everyone will experience a divorce or marriage or have a child, but many will experience discrimination, lose a job, go through a breakup, and experience other affecting events, whether major or minor. Stress will therefore be a part of most people’s lives, but it may be somewhat easier to manage when experienced in smaller amounts, especially when other factors help mitigate the stress. A marriage, for example, is generally considered to be a happy event, and though it may be stressful to plan and prepare for the ceremony, the excitement experienced by the couple may help reduce the physical and mental effects of the stress experienced.
Few people will deny being stressed at least once in their lifetime, but for many, stress can be ongoing and unbearable. Chronic stress can contribute to a myriad of mental health and physical health issues. Research has linked high stress levels to:
When these complaints occur as a result of stress, they may often clear up as the stressful situation is resolved. However, they can become serious, and treatment from a doctor or mental health professional may often be necessary, especially if stress persists.
When the stress of life leads to drug abuse, chronic physical ailments or pain, an absence of pleasure or relaxation in life, or when it affects one’s well-being negatively in any way, it may be helpful to meet with a mental health professional or medical doctor to receive treatment for the manifested symptoms of stress and work through the issues causing it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often an effective form of therapy for stress, as the technique can help change negative thought patterns that develop as a result of stress, helping the person in treatment find new ways of thinking about stressful events that may not have such a negative effect.
When stress occurs as a result of another condition, or an event such as a loss, a divorce, or a life-altering medical diagnosis, therapy can help address these concerns and their other effects on a person’s life. When workplace issues lead to stress, for example, ways to deal with those issues can be explored with the help of a therapist. When stress develops as a result of a family or relationship issue, couples or family therapy may help resolve the issue, leading to a reduction in the levels of stress experienced.
Typically, therapists will also be able to give advice on stress reduction tactics that can be used to manage stress at any time. Stress affects the body, mind, and emotions, so stress reduction can occur in each of these areas:
Caring for a pet has been shown to be helpful at managing stress as well as other conditions. Self-help books and seminars that teach coping methods or ways to reduce stress may also be effective for some individuals.
Last updated: 05-20-2015