You can reach me at 208.557.8603. My office is located on 6th Avenue next to Idaho State University in the University Historic District of Pocatello.
Do you feel stressed? Take inventory of what you are experiencing.
Are you feeling hurt, angry, fearful or resentful? Do you feel on edge and unable to relax? Are you prone to irritation? Do you have chronic tension in your neck and shoulders? Are you having difficulty concentrating or sleeping? Perhaps your breathing is shallow or your chest feels tight.
Are you always trying to catch up but never feel you do enough? Are you having intrusive or persistent thoughts? Do you feel stuck? Are you worrying alot? Are you having trouble letting go enough to enjoy life? Do you find your mind wandering, unable to enjoy the moment?
Perhaps something just happened. You lost your job, are getting divorced, or have failed at a major undertaking. Or perhaps you are in a chronic difficulty that is slowly unfolding and wearing you down, such as continual money problems, an ill parent or a high pressure job. Whereas previously your experience of stress ebbed and flowed, lately you always feel stressed.
Perhaps you don’t feel quite yourself either. You notice you are behaving in uncharacteristic ways, such as eating or drinking more than usual or arriving chronically late for work. Maybe you have taken on an unusual activity to cope with the way you are feeling. Whatever changes you are experiencing, there seems to be a sense that something is wrong. You are doing things you ordinarily would not do.
Perhaps you think you might just hang in there and try harder, work longer, or do whatever is needed until such a time things get better. But life does not improve. Despite your efforts you are slowly but surely being worn down. You see yourself slipping physically and mentally.
If you identify with at least a few of the symptoms above, you might be experiencing a high level of stress. One definition of stress is a demand placed on you that significantly taxes your mental and physical resources. Whereas low to moderate levels of stress are considered a natural part of life, higher amounts of stress—especially when long term—can deplete your resources and be toxic to your body. To effectively deal with stress you need to rest, recover and rejuvenate. Otherwise high stress and chronic stress lead to physical ailments, anxiety and/or other problems in your life.
Think you are unique? Know that stress is common.
Recently a survey was done to investigate who in America is experiencing stress and why (for the actual survey see http://media.npr.org/documents/2014/july/npr_rwfj_harvard_stress_poll.pdf.) According
to this study, nearly half of the public said they experienced a major stressful event in the past year. Of those people, 43% of them said their stress was associated with problems related to health. Other sources of stress include: financial problems, work, life changes, family situations, problems with children, problems with relationships, the daily news, and having competing priorities.
There are many causes of stress. Where does your stress come from?
In order to understand what causes stress it is helpful to make a distinction between a stressor (i.e. an event or situation that causes stress) and your reaction to the stressor (i.e. your response). In common language sometimes the source of stress and the stress response are both referred to as “stress.” However it can be important to distinguish between the triggering event and your response to the event.
According to the American Institute of Stress, multiple stressors can have an additive effect on your stress level. If you are curious about your own situation, check out their list of stressful life events (http://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/) and take inventory of how many of these events have happened to you in the past year. Each of the 43 events listed is assigned a Life Change Unit according to the degree the event can impact your stress level. Your total value for the year is established by adding the scores for each event experienced over the past year. If your score adds to less than 150 Life Change Units on average you have a 30% chance of suffering from a stress-induced health breakdown. 150-299 units is associated with 50% chance of suffering from a major health breakdown. Over 300 Life Change Units raises the odds of a major health breakdown to about 80% chance.
Physical stressors include challenges to your body, such as fatigue, physical exertion, hangovers, and poor diet. Psychological stressors include events or situations that feel uncontrollable or unpredictable. By definition, a stressor leads to a stress response, that is, a change in the body in response to the stressor. Body changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and glucose levels. Healthy stress leads to the energy, alertness and focus that you need to meet the demands of the situation. Unhealthy stress leads to a sense of overwhelm, apathy and/or burnout.
What one person finds stressful may not be experienced as stressful by another person. For example, one person may find a challenging job to be exhilarating whereas another person might find it to be overly demanding or stressful. Whether a situation is stressful or not depends on how you make meaning of your situation and how well you can manage your response. Your life experiences, outlook, and your relationship to change can all determine what you find stressful. Your ability to tolerate and cope with the stress depends on how resourced you are mentally, socially, and physically. Important resources for dealing with stress include: support from family and friends, a flexible perspective, religious refuge, a financial buffer, and a healthy, well rested body.
The key is to be aware of your stress levels so that you can reduce the impact of stress without delay. Mindfulness training can be an extremely effective way to learn how to detect stress before it gets to be overwhelming. Then you can take decisive action. Potential options include: adjusting your attitude, setting boundaries, increasing self care and changing the situation. It takes a special kind of self-awareness to notice the early warning signs of stress. If you can spot it early on, you can return to equilibrium more quickly.
Know that unresolved stress is bad for you. Should you be concerned?
When you have stress that continues without you being able to recover, your stress hormones become toxic to your body and can lead to physical problems such as hypertension, heart problems, digestive problems, headaches, backaches, and sleep disorders. Emotional issues can also appear, such as anxiety, depression and changes to personality. During long periods of stress you may act in ways that make the situation worse. For example, you may find yourself drinking more alcohol, eating more, engaging in impulsive behavior, experiencing temper outbursts, etc.
Relieving stress is all about self-care. Can you make it a priority?
The way to relieve stress is to first notice that you are stressed and then address your stress symptoms. You are probably aware of different ways you can relieve your stress already. However there is always opportunity to try something new. Physical symptoms of stress can be relieved through rejuvenating activities such as exercise, massage, yoga, deep breathing, hot baths, and restorative sleep. Psychological symptoms of stress can be alleviated through engaging in self-compassion, reaching out to family and friends, spending time in nature, spending time with a pet, working on a hobby, and practicing spirituality. If you find you cannot make self-care a priority then stress therapy is for you.
Stress can be managed through a balanced lifestyle. Where are you out of balance?
In summary, there is always some stress in life. Certain types of stress are simply a part of living life fully and can be seen as a natural part of the human condition. Stress can be toxic when it is present at high levels for a long period of time. The best way to avoid the negative impact of stress is to live a balanced lifestyle that takes care of the basic needs of body and mind while avoiding extremes. What does a balanced lifestyle look for you? The general wisdom is that adequate sleep, a supportive network of friends, regular, balanced meals, and exercise are all important ways to prevent and relieve high levels of stress. To get these basic needs met you may need to set boundaries, such as limiting overtime and setting realistic goals. Consider taking time out daily to relax, pursue outside interests, engage in meditation or prayer, and nurture healthy relationships with intimate others and friends. In addition, if you can train yourself to embrace change, you won’t feel as stressed out. Mindfulness training can be particularly helpful in avoiding toxic stress.
Feel out of control? Stress counseling can help you sort out priorities.
By the time you talk with me you may already be overwhelmed by what is going on in your life. Therapy for stress follows a logical pattern. The first thing we would probably do is find ways for you to recover physically and emotionally as soon as you possibly can. I can then help you identify ongoing patterns in your life that are causing undue stress so that you can minimize these stressors going forward. For example, your lifestyle can create stress when your habits are driven by unconscious needs and desires. Sometimes all it takes is to clearly identify what you value and need so that you can set appropriate boundaries. I can assist in this discovery process.
A more comprehensive approach is through systematic training in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
MBSR is a blend of meditation, body awareness, and yoga exercises. Through these practices you can study how your mind and body are impacted by stress and learn to mitigate stress naturally and effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
FAQ: This is modern life. Of course it is stressful. Why should I do anything about it?
Yes, modern Western culture seems to encourage stressful lifestyles. The question is: What are you sacrificing for the the sake of the lifestyle you have now? Is it your health? Does your stressful lifestyle impact your loved ones? What are you holding onto that is causing you unnecessary stress?
Consider what you risk if you do not address your stress. It could be your health, your relationships or your career. Psychotherapy can help you avert a personal crisis.
FAQ: If I could just relax a little more, things will be okay. Why should I consider counseling?
How successful have you been in managing your stress up until now? Are you able to make the necessary changes on your own? Maybe you are over your head. If you are caught up in what you are doing you might not be able to see a way out. It can be difficult to make major changes when you are under duress.
When stress is high and/or chronic, everything feels overwhelming. You may experience tunnel vision or a distorted perception of the way things really are. As a result, your judgment may be impaired. This is not the time to be making any major decisions. When the stakes are high and your ability to cope is critical, it may be advisable to work with a qualified mental health professional to sort out your situation and priorities. Here is where I can assist.
FAQ: Why do I need counseling? I can just take a pill for stress, can’t I?
That is exactly what pharmaceutical companies want you to believe (check out their advertisements). However, think again. If you regularly take pills to combat your stress without changing anything else in your life, you lose an opportunity to have the quality of life you deserve. In addition, a pharmaceutical solution can blunt other emotions. If you self-medicate to buffer negative feelings, you blunt positive feelings as well. Substantially all drugs have side effects as well. Many drugs can permanently change your brain chemistry or be addictive.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an empirically based natural alternative to taking pharmaceutical drugs for the treatment of stress.
FAQ: How can psychotherapy help? Seems all I need to do is figure out how to take care of myself!
Sometimes normal ways of coping with stress don’t work. In that case, life feels unbearably stressful. Therapy for stress can help you become aware of what is going on within you. You may not be completely aware of all the causes of your stress.
A stress response becomes an anxiety disorder when it is associated with significant distress or disability in social, occupational and other important activities. Impairment can include changes in one’s thought process, emotional regulation, and behavior. Most anxiety disorders are associated with the experience of intense fear or anxiety. If you find you are unable to function in everyday life because of stress and anxiety see my section on Anxiety Counseling.
Terry Kerler, LPC
South 6th Avenue, Pocatello, ID 83201
© 2016 by Terry Kerler, MA, LPC. All Rights reserved.