Stress Management Dr. Paul Standal helps his clients identify sources of stress while educating and coaching them in strategies for coping with stress.
THE STRESS RESPONSE
Learning about stress and how to recognize stress signals is important for your physical and emotional health. Stress is a contributing factor in causing emotional and behavioral difficulties, including explosive expressions of anger. Life events are demanding and at times, the demands made on you exceed your ability to cope with them. When this happens, understanding the stages associated with the stress response may be helpful in intervening earlier and reducing the distress caused by the stressful situation.
Stressors refer to internally or externally generated demands, situations or circumstances that overwhelm your emotional resources, disrupting your internal balance and trigger the stress response.
Stress response can be the consequence of external circumstances similar to the stressful events schedule that are situational. Internal stress is caused by a conflict between one’s conditions of worth or values and our behaviors or qualities we hold about ourselves. For example, the stress response could be activated if one has a condition of worth that commands them to be always perfect and then they are fired from a job. Both internal and external stressors conflict with our view of ourselves and the world around us. This conflict causes stress with distressing and uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and/or depression.
There are several phases in our response to stressors that can be either a short term experience or one that can be chronic and quite toxic to our mental and physical health.
1. The Alarm Phase: In the alarm phase, the body/mind recognizes and begins to respond to the stressor(s) by preparing to fight, flee or freeze. The release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in this stage create physiological, neurological and psychological changes in preparation to meet a threat. There is increased influence and control by the primitive parts of the brain, while reducing influence of the more rational self-conscious, executive higher functions. This can lead to hyper-arousal and emotional volatility.
2. The Resistance Phase: In the resistance phase, physical and psychological processes seek to return to equilibrium or balance. We use all our psychological and emotional resources to return to balance.
3. The Exhaustion Phase: This phase occurs with chronic stress where the individual experiences long-term internal conflict or external pressures. In the exhaustion phase the individual remains in a state of high stress, physically and psychologically, for an extended period of time. Symptoms of stress, such as anxiety or depression, appear and become increasingly distressing with increased sense of helplessness and hopelessness and with increased anger, frustration or irritation. The individual may begin to use substances to cope.
4. Breakdown Phase: This phase is exemplified by a deterioration of a sense of order and meaning in an individual’s life. The individual may become numb and contained or may feel they are in a no-win situation. The model of the world, what has in the past been a dependable paradigm of what is meaningful and how one functions in the world, is invalidated. Individuals will seek outside help when other sources of support do not provide relief. Social connections collapse and there may be an increased use of alcohol or drugs to alleviate stress. Suicidal ideation is quite common at this phase.
5. Restoration Phase: Equilibrium is regained. Emotional and psychological balance has been regained. The situation that produced the stress may have stopped. With chronic stress, the person will have worked through the issues that created the conflict through therapy.
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