Stress is a normal part of being a human, but most would agree when it hangs around for long periods of time, it interferes with the quality of your life. If you can’t sleep, find yourself getting really agitated and have lots of racing angry thoughts, it can begin to get unproductive and really contribute to you feeling like your well-being is compromised.
But what do we do about it when it gets the better of us?
Understanding what causes stress can be a good first step. Tomkins (1991) presented an important model for explaining how as humans, our primary deep-seated biological motivating mechanisms are our feelings. He describes how it is normal to have the full range of emotions from feeling scared, calm, anxious, angry, or even contented. However, Tomkins (1991) model privileges the importance of expressing and managing our feelings and often our culture encourages us to suppress expressions of basic human emotions that are considered negative. It’s okay to be happy or contented, but not so acceptable to be angry and weepy or even lonely.
Tomkins would argue that one explanation for stress can be, that it is a consequence of “backed up feelings inside us.” If you regularly have to suppress how you are feeling, then you don’t get the liberating, de – stressing experience of having and expressing a simple, direct feeling.
Psychotherapy can be one place where you can have the opportunity to get more familiar with your feelings and learn more about how to manage them. Talking about issues going on in your life and having a safe place to let off steam, can assist you with getting more skilful at finding ways to release stress. Just like lifting weights at the gym, you can start off lifting a light hand-weight when you return to exercise. Similarly in counselling, you can begin by experimenting with showing mild irritation and then move onto being able to lift heavier “weights” such as expressing anger. As you get better at bearing the expression of your supposedly bad feelings, they will no longer be backed up in your system and flow more freely.
Tomkins, S. S. (1991) Affect, imagery, consciousness: The negative affects fear and anger, Vol 3. New York: Springer