When someone we know mentions the word ‘stress’, we kind of have this unpleasant image of feeling heightened, drowning in tasks, having too many things to do with too little time, not being able to focus, being in a ‘frazzled’ state etc.
Stress is part of our human existence and is not always a ‘bad’ thing to experience. It generally occurs when there is an imbalance between the demands upon us and our ability to keep up with those demands (Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007).
At times we may feel under pressure to engage in something that we are afraid that we may fail. The higher the stakes, the more pressure and stress we can feel. Stress is not always a ‘bad’ thing and some individuals thrive on it to get things completed.
Did you know that there are actually 3 different types of stress?
#1 Direct Stress
Direct stress is our response to things that threaten us. This is the stress that can affect busy individuals (feeling that they have too much to do and not enough time), those who have been exposed to traumatising events, etc.
This type of stress can put individuals into overdrive which means they are likely to struggle with a lot of anxiety, focus, making decisions, problem solving and may become irritable etc.
#2 Indirect Stress
Indirect stress is our response to things that de-motivate us. This stress affects those who may be excluded from a community (those who are unemployed, elderly, those who are physically unwell). Generally we may see people in this position respond to the subtle threat of exclusion by losing hope, confidence and motivation.
#3 Positive Stress:
Positive stress is our response to things that motivate us. This stress is important for living life, it is a manageable level of stress that keeps us motivated to go to work, pay the bills, engage with our life commitments etc.
Therefore some levels of stress can help us to get through difficult situations as we are alert, ready and motivated to face challenges.
However when stress moves beyond this and we feel overwhelmed, have difficulty concentrating, making decisions and problem solving, it can become difficult to manage and navigate.
Causes of Stress
Causes of stress are different for everyone because we are all different with varying life experiences, values, beliefs, skills, responsibilities etc.
This means that something that may be extremely stressful for one individual may be a minor speed bump for another. Although we are all different, we generally have common life events that can cause a stress reaction such as the loss of a loved one, relationship breakdowns (including separation or divorce), financial concerns, illness/health difficulties, or adverse work, home or school environments (Guthrie, Ciccarelli & Babic, 2010).
Cognitive Contributions to Stress
Additionally, particular thinking styles can contribute to building or enhancing stress, disrupting our problem solving and decision making abilities which could assist to lessen the stress. The following thinking styles can contribute to our stress response:
- Over-generalizing – thinking that if something bad happened once then it will happen again.
- Catastrophizing – believing the worst case scenario will happen.
- Fortune telling – we predict a bad outcome like it is factual.
- Emotional reasoning – we believe that how we feel reflect the way things really are.
- Jumping to conclusions – we conclude that something is factual without evidence to back that up.
- Mental filtering – ruminating over negative details and disregarding the positive.
- Magnifying – exaggerating the importance of painful or difficult things in our lives.
- Minimizing – discounting the importance or existence of positive things in our lives.
- Perfectionism – the belief that we or others must live up to excessively high standards.
- All or nothing thinking – the belief that if things are not close to perfect, it’s not worth doing.
- Taking the blame – we blame ourselves or others for things that we (or they) had little to no control over.
- Mind reading – we believe that someone is reacting negatively to us without evidence to support this.
- Name calling – the belief that if we or others make a mistake, we make blanket judgements about them or ourselves (O’Kelly, 2010).
Signs of Stress
Stress can be seen to impact us physically, emotionally and behaviourally.
Physical: Fatigue, sleep difficulties (insomnia), stomach ache, indigestion, nausea, chest pain, muscle pain and tension, headaches and migraines, increased sweating, weakened immune system, neck and back pain.
Emotional: Loss of motivation, increased irritability and anger, anxiety, depression or sadness, restlessness, inability to focus, mood instability, decreased sex drive.
Behavioural: Unhealthy eating (over or under eating), drug or alcohol use, social withdrawal, nail biting, constant thoughts about stressors.
Stress can affect us in many ways such as: anxiety, depression (Hammen, 2005), tension, our thought processes, decreased concentration, difficulty making decisions, difficulty problem solving, feeling hopeless, increased drinking or use of substances, difficulties with sleep, weight issues and many others (Johnson, 1997).
Your Response to Stress
As mentioned previously, our responses to stress will involve our varying life experiences, values, beliefs, skills, attitude and personality. Other factors that may impact our stress response include the following:
- How you think about a problem.
- General daily levels of anxiety.
- How much the problem affects you (or may affect you).
- If there have been previous similar experiences.
- Your level of control of what is happening.
- How long the problem / event / situation affects you.
- How important the outcome or end goal is to you.
- The different ways you cope with challenging situations.
- Your level of self confidence.
- If there are people around you to provide support.
Many of us are aware that high levels / ongoing levels of high stress can impact our physical wellbeing. Stress is generally considered a problem when we feel that we cannot keep up with the demands we feel are placed upon us (by ourselves, work and / or life).
When we feel stressed, our bodies have a physiological reaction to this. We may experience increased heart and breathing rate and a rise in our blood pressure. The longer we remain in the stress response, the greater the toll on our bodies as we use energy to cope with this.
Some tips to help manage the stress include the following:
- Regular exercise;
- Avoid unnecessary conflict;
- Keep in mind that stress is not always a ‘bad’ thing;
- Talk about the problem/s, even if they cannot be solved (in the near future);
- Prioritize important tasks/responsibilities;
- Focus on meeting your own basic needs (eat, sleep, exercise);
- Keep things in perspective (challenge the thinking style, use facts/other perspectives);
- Relax (self care);
- Eat well (balanced diet, regular meals);
- Establish a positive sleep routine;
- Spend time doing things that you enjoy (O’Kelly, 2010).
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Guthrie, R., Ciccarelli, M., & Babic, A. (2010). Work-related stress in Australia: The effects of legislative interventions and the cost of treatment. International journal of law and psychiatry, 33(2), 101-115.
- Gunnar, M., & Quevedo, K. (2007). The neurobiology of stress and development. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 58, 145-173.
- Hammen, C. (2005). Stress and depression. Annu. Rev. Clin. Psychol., 1, 293-319.
- Johnson, Sharon L. (Sharon Lorraine). (1997). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention : the 1-2-3’s of treatment planning. San Diego :Academic Press,
- O’Kelly, M. (2010). CBT in ACTION: A Practitioner’s Toolkit. CBT Australia.