Are you just stressed or is it something more?

Mark came to see me because he was worried he was not progressing fast enough in his career. He was in a good job that wasn’t overly challenging but he was also doing a further qualification part-time at night. He had reasoned it was better to be in a less demanding role whilst he was studying. However, his wife really wanted them to buy a house and he knew it would be tough on their current combined income. He had started having trouble sleeping and he was beginning to feel like work, family and study were just a constant grind. His wife was complaining that he was always on edge or grumpy. They had begun to fight a lot more and he knew he was retreating and not talking much, but he was just so tired all of the time. Mark was feeling stressed and after a few sessions of working through why, he began to make sense of what was really going on for him. He had no time for fun or relaxation, he was feeling over – stretched and he felt like he wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations including his own. I helped him see that the responsibilities he was carrying were really starting to effect his sleep and his relationships. We worked together so he could decide how to get a better work / life balance. He started to carve out time for exercise again and he talked to his wife about extending the time frame on buying the house. Within six sessions, Mark had a handle on how he wanted to manage the conflicting priorities he had come in with and a plan for how he wanted to move forward. He was calmer and getting on better with everyone and also finding it much easier to sleep at night.

What is normal stress?

The body keeps the score – you know when you are stressed don’t you? Everyone experiences stress in their own body in their own unique way. The secret is to truly begin to listen and respond to your body when it is sending you warning signals about stress. Maybe you get neck pain, or headaches or your heart beats faster or you break out in a sweat? It get’s provoked when you have taken on too much or are at risk of missing an important deadline. Or perhaps you get stressed most when you have to do some public speaking. No matter what the cause is, the result is you feel overloaded, wound up and worried.

This is normal stress. We all experience it at times.

But feeling wound up can also be harmful if you become over-stressed and it interferes with your ability to get on with your normal life for too long.

When do you need to act ~ When is life too stressful?

Sometimes it becomes hard to identify that you are overstressed. You just get used to the physical sensations and maybe you have ways of making it go away for awhile. Perhaps you distract yourself with too much food, too much alcohol, Pokemon, or binge TV etc. Whatever your particular coping mechanisms, what you do notice is that it get’s harder to distract yourself from feeling bad and it becomes much more difficult to get on with your normal life. This is when you know for sure that stress is getting you down and your reactions are no longer adapting to fit the situation you are in. At this point, you may be suffering from any of the following:

  • emotional overwhelm
  • panic attacks (fast shallow breathing, feeling hot, or dizzy)
  • impulsiveness (restless, jumpiness, quick to react without thinking things through)
  • too alert about everything going on around you, scanning your environment for threat
  • defensiveness and feeling mistrustful
  • feeling unsafe
  • reactive
  • angry
  • and racing thoughts           Janina Fisher, PhD 2008

One of the key reasons for on-going stress is that you may have experienced something that has overwhelmed you in your life. This is a very hard thing to recognise and acknowledge. As human beings we are wired to be adaptive and to reassure ourselves with the idea that:

“other people are much worse off than me…”

“it wasn’t that bad I’m overreacting…”

” I need to man up and  just cope with it, it is weak to be stuck on this…” etc

We have many ways of minimising our response to events or people who have caused us too much pain. Usually, our bodies have to develop big symptoms in order to get our attention.  For example, we may have to develop panic attacks, chronic headaches, eating disorders, nightmares and flashbacks, severe insomnia, or a gambling addiction. It takes a lot of effort for our mind to come to grips with the stress on our nervous system that our body has been dealing with for a long time.  In this way, our mind tries to protect us from the difficult truth. So it takes courage to finally admit that maybe you do not have a handle on this and you need help.

This is more than normal stress. This is actually trauma.

Trauma is your individual experience of a frightening event or events…The more you believe you are endangered during the event.. the more traumatized you will be ..Psychologically the bottom line of trauma is overwhelming emotion and feelings of utter helplessness…Adapted from Jon Allen 1995.

For some people who have suffered trauma, they keep reliving the event continually as if is is recurring in the present. Or they keep overreacting to events in their current life and they cannot easily calm down. Or even scarier, they used to be able to feel a lot but now they feel shut down, not present and numb a lot of the time. The other major symptom for someone who is a trauma sufferer is that they have trouble maintaining ongoing intimate relationships. If you can identify with any of these stress triggers it is time to seek help.

Be brave tell someone how you are really doing today….