What is Stress?
People feel stressed sometimes: e.g. when we are under a lot of pressure, facing big changes, when we don’t have control over situations or in times of uncertainty. We feel stressed when the demands on us and our resources to deal with them are not in balance. Examples of demands are: adjustments to new situations such as work, unemployment, separation, marriage, illness or moving house. Also, the attitudes and expectations about ourselves and others sometimes cause stress. Although we generally try to prevent it, some stress is good for us, and can improve our performance.
Stress has an impact on many parts of our lives. Here are some examples. If we experience too much stress, it could affect emotions (anxiety, depression, jealousy, crying), thoughts (difficulty concentrating and making decisions, increased sensitivity to criticism and negative self-critical thoughts), health (high blood pressure, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome), the body (increased heart rate, feeling sick, fatigue, less efficient immune system), behaviour (poor sleep, irritability, withdrawal, restlessness) and work (poor productivity, job dissatisfaction). Work stress is the most common source of stress in the developed world.
What is Involved in a Course of Therapy?
With CBT you will learn to identify the factors that cause stress in your life and the impact it has on you. Together we will look at the resources you already have. We will explore which coping strategies you use, and which new ones you could add to help you cope with the stress in your life. Examples of strategies are assertiveness, social support, and self-care. It is important to be able to say no, to delegate if appropriate and making sure that you take breaks.
Regular exercise and a balanced diet are also good ways to manage stress. Exercise lowers blood pressure and releases a great deal of muscle tension that has been building up in times of stress. It also improves body image and it will help to raise your mood. Healthy eating enables you to cope better with stress. Certain foods such as salt, sugar, alcohol and caffeine can affect our mood, and eaten in access they can influence our stress levels.
Other factors that contribute to stress are perfectionism and setting (too) high standards for yourself. In therapy we will think about unhelpful thinking patterns, and you can learn to set more realistic goals for yourself. Both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) can be helpful in addressing these issues.
Mindfulness is a good way to manage stress, because it helps us to be in the here and now, without judgment. It calms down the nervous system, so that we can think more clearly and feel more relaxed.