What is Stress?

Stress‘Stress’ is a term created by Dr Hans Selye in the 1950s to describe the results of General Adaptation Syndrome – the failure to adapt to life problems. Leading to a variety of medically unexplained symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, pain and immune system failures.

Unfortunately, it has now become an over-used and confusing term. It can refer interchangeably to any of the following issues:

  • Adverse life events (e.g. unemployment, separation, financial problems, etc).
  • Conflicts in relationships or at work
  • Anxiety
  • Over-arousal and agitation (feeling ‘hyper’)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling run-down or exhausted (‘burnout’)
  • Symptomatic (‘stress-related’) illness
  • Trauma

Article: 7 warning signs of stress

The causes of Stress

Stress is the result of an interaction between external life events, unhelpful judgments, poor coping strategies and an absence of resilience.

To give a concrete example:

Martha is on probation for a job in a bank. She is extremely over-worked, with punishing deadlines, little training and support, and under constant threat of dismissal. At the same time she is a perfectionist who worries about failure, and finds it difficult to stand up to people. She has guilt when she fails to live up to impossible standards, and shies away from discussing her problems with anyone else. She believes that the answer to her problems is over-work. In that way she loses work-life balance, and practices little self-nurturing. Gradually she experiences panicky feelings, racing thoughts, headache, insomnia and exhaustion. Eventually she is signed off on fitness leave and is referred for psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy for Stress

Psychotherapy first assesses the multiple sources of the client’s problem:

  • External pressures
  • The client’s personality traits
  • Thinking patterns
  • Problem behaviours
  • Physical and emotional reactions

The aim is to identify the impact of external events, how these are made worse by the client’s thoughts and reactions, resulting in sub-optimal coping strategies, leading to stressful feelings and symptoms.

The next step is to assist the client in changing his thinking patterns, improving his reactions to environmental stressors, developing better coping strategies, and building resilience. Using any of the following techniques and approaches in combination.

  • Thought defusion
  • Thought challenge
  • Thought replacement
  • Developing coping mechanisms for life problems
  • Assertiveness training
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation/calming techniques
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Exercise programs
  • Decision making
  • Behavioural activation

Article: 30 stress management techniques



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