What is Stress?
Stress is often described as a feeling of being overloaded, wound-up tight, tense and worried. There can be many different stressful situations or demands in an individual’s life, however, the individual’s experience of being ‘stressed’ is related to their perception of having the ability to cope with the stressful event. The experience of being stressed over a long period of time can be harmful and interfere with an individual’s daily functioning, including their relationships, health, and mental wellbeing.
When faced with an event perceived as stressful, an individual’s body responds by activating the nervous system and releasing stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body that help an individual to react quickly and effectively to get through the stressful situation. The hormones increase the person’s heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism, perspiration rate, and muscle tension, and dilate their pupils.
While such physiological changes help the individual try to meet the immediate challenges of the stressful situation, they can cause other symptoms if the stress is ongoing and the physiological stress response does not settle down. These symptoms can include:
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, muscular aches and pains, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue, sleep disturbance, insomnia or stomach upsets
- Psychological symptoms such as anger, irritability, changes in mood, anxiety, depression, helplessness, concentration or memory difficulties, low self-esteem, or feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
Stress is caused by an imbalance between the demands of the stressor and the individual’s perceived capacity to meet those demands. In some situations, stressors can be removed or the demands of a stressor can be reduced but many stressors need to be managed by the individual.
There are a number of risk factors that have been said to interact and contribute to an individual’s inability to manage stress. These factors include:
- Biological factors such as genetic predispositions, poor physical health, some medications3
- Social-environmental factors such as the breakdown of a marriage, work or school deadlines, lack of social support, financial hardship, unemployment
- Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, negative perceptions and beliefs, unhelpful coping strategies.
Treatment for Stress
Stress can be treated using a number of methods however to determine which treatment is best suited, Kathryn will ask questions about the individual’s history, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and behaviours to gain an understanding of factors that might be contributing to the person’s difficulties and work out a treatment best suited to the client.
Further Reading & Support
Australian Psychological Society
Australia’s largest professional association for psychologists
Provides information on anxiety, depression, and related disorders
Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12-25
A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service
Telephone: 13 11 14