Nature of Stress:
We all experience stress. Stress can be thought of as our experience of demands to respond to change or to new circumstances. Stresses are often quite manageable, and include:
- Demands from others: your boss gives you an assignment; your spouse asks you to run an errand on the way home;
- Demands from circumstances (you get a flat tire; you encounter a computer problem); or
- Demands generated from within yourself (when you feel like you should do something: e.g., work on a project, or exercise; or when you feel hungry; or distressing feelings/ emotions that you want to alleviate).
As noted, many “stresses” are easy to respond to, and in fact, experts think we operate best under conditions of moderate (rather than low or minimal) stress. Also, many stresses are experienced as positive – “good stress” – such as enjoyable demands and activities (e.g., social activities/celebrations).
“Stress” becomes problematic when we have too much of it at a single time or during a period of time. When we experience having “too much going on,” stress starts to cause “distress” (an unpleasant experience typically including a feeling of strain or anxiety), and can reach the point where we feel “overwhelmed” (a sense of not being able to manage everything on our plates).
Our experience of stress is not just a function of the demands we face. Rather, it also depends on how we experience those demands: in other words, how we perceive them, what meaning they have to us, what we say to ourselves and how we think about them. Two people with what seem similar demands or circumstances may experience very different levels of stress, distress, and feeling overwhelmed. For all kinds of reasons, some of us “cope” with demands, or “manage stress,” better than others. If you are struggling with too much stress, therapy for stress management can help you develop enhanced skills for coping with stress better.
How I can Help with Stress:
If you contacted me for help with stress, my approach to helping with “stress management” would start with listening supportively: hearing “what’s going on” and understanding it from your perspective. (This includes “normalizing”: letting you know that what you’re experiencing is understandable and not “crazy.”) This itself may start to help you feel a bit better, including by giving you a sense that you’re not alone, even though it doesn’t directly address or resolve any of the stresses or circumstances.
Beyond that, therapeutic conversation to help with stress may involve:
- Understanding how one perceives and interprets the stressful circumstances, and identifying alternative ways of thinking about them that decrease the perceived stress;
- Problem-solving about the actual circumstances (e.g., different ways to handle interpersonal conflict; how to prioritize multiple demands);
- Teaching “stress management techniques,” including self-monitoring and relaxation exercises, and organization and time – management skills.
For more about my approach to stress management and to individual therapy altogether, see My Approach to Individual Therapy.
The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for almost all of us. The approach above can be applied to various stresses of dealing with the pandemic. See my page, Stress of COVID-19, for more specifically about the stresses of COVID-19 and coping with them.