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Stress Management 

Counselling in Perth

 

Feelings of stress are often a product of the busy lives we lead. It is a way that our bodies tell us that something in our life is out of balance. Yet so many people struggle on without knowing the impact that ongoing stress can have physically, emotionally, and socially; and never learning how to anticipate and manage stressful situations when they occur.  Becoming over-stressed can result in mental and physical fatigue, sleep deprivation, and feeling overwhelmed. 

Stress becomes problematic when it starts to affect how you function day-to-day. But first, let’s look at the different types of stress.

 

Acute Stress – a response to an event or situation that is short-lived such as being stuck in a traffic jam, rushing to meet an important deadline, making sure you get “the perfect present” for a loved one, or dealing with a toddler’s temper tantrum in the supermarket.  This is a stress that happens, you deal with it, it finishes, you move on.

Symptoms of acute stress can result in physical effects from tension such as tension headaches, back ache, jaw pain; as well as problems relating to digestion and bowel function such as changes in appetite, upset tummy, nausea, vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Psychological distress such as anger, irritability, depression and anxiety are also common with this type of stress.

Episodic Acute Stress ­– this term is used to describe people who always seems to be stressed out, in a constant state of chaos and turmoil. They tend to take on too much and constantly feel under pressure to get things done. They are often late and unorganised.  This often manifests as an almost continuous irritability, hostility or anger which can end up affecting their relationships with family, friends and work colleagues.

This type of stress is also a consequence for those people who are “worriers” – they worry about everything which leaves their body in a constant state of arousal.  They are more depressed and anxious than angry and irritated.

Symptoms of episodic acute stress are often tension related – tension headache and migraine (related to the muscle tension in the head, neck and shoulders).

Chronic Stress – an response to an ongoing stressful situation such as unemployment, financial issues, relationship problems, unrealistic demands, pressures or expectations, desperately unhappy in a job but without an alternative, or caring for someone with a physical or mental disability.  Because this type of stress is there each and every day, people just get used to it and carry on as if it’s normal. Their bodies are in a state of high arousal and tension all the time.

In men, chronic stress can cause problems with the reproductive system – excess testosterone, sperm production and erectile dysfunction.

For women, ongoing stress has an affect their reproductive system also – changes to menstruation, changes in the symptoms of menopause, and lowered sexual desire.

Chronic stress destroys relationships, ends careers, starts addictions, and may even result in suicide.

 

Gender and Stress1

Research has shown that males and females reported similarities and differences in dealing with the physical and mental symptoms of stress as shown below. 

 

Male

Female

Irritability or anger...............................

45%

46%

Fatigue...............................................

39%

43%

Lack of interest, motivation or energy......

35%

40%

Feeling nervous or anxious......................

34%

38%

Headache............................................

30%

41%

Feeling depressed or sad........................

30%

38%

Feeling as though you could cry...............

15%

44%

Upset stomach or indigestion...................

21%

32%

Muscular tension....................................

22%

24%

Change in appetite.................................

19%

22%

Nothing................................................

28%

19%

 

Similarly, when asked about the types of things they did for stress management, reported differences were apparent by gender also.  

 

 

Male

Female

Listen to music......................................

52%

47%

Exercise or walk.....................................

47%

49%

Spend time with family or friends..............

39%

54%

Read...................................................

24%

57%

Watch TV or movies  2 hours + per day....

39%

37%

Pray....................................................

28%

45%

Play video games or surf the Internet........

38%

33%

Nap.....................................................

33%

35%

Spend time doing a hobby.......................

33%

30%

Eat......................................................

21%

31%

Go to church or religious services..............

18%

27%

Drink alcohol..........................................

17%

15%

Shop.....................................................

8%

21%

Smoke...................................................

13%

12%

Get a massage/go to a spa.......................

7%

15%

Play sports............................................

16%

4%

Meditation or yoga..................................

6%

7%

See a mental health professional...............

3%

5%

Gamble.................................................

4%

4%

Do nothing: unable/unwilling to do any activity..................................................

1%

1%

Do not take any action to help manage stress

9%

4%

 

How Breathing Affects Feelings

Normal breathing – we breathe in oxygen, which is used by the body and converted to carbon dioxide, which is breathed out. Both the oxygen in and carbon dioxide out are balanced so our body functions properly.

Breathing during exercise – as we exercise we naturally take in more oxygen to fuel the exertion and breathe out an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Again, both oxygen in and carbon dioxide out are balanced.

Anxious/stressed breathing – the body takes in more oxygen than normal and expels more carbon dioxide than normal. However, because the body is not doing any extra work (and utilizing the extra oxygen) it does not produce extra carbon dioxide. Therefore the carbon dioxide being expelled is more than is being produced, the carbon dioxide levels in the blood decrease.  This imbalance in the blood results in feeling a little dizzy or light-headed, tingling in the fingers or toes, and sweaty palms.

The good news is... if you are able to deliberately slow down and control your breathing, carbon dioxide levels return to normal, those uncomfortable sensations decrease and you can usually start to feel better within just a few minutes.

 

How to Control Your Breathing

  1. Sit or lie down and close your eyes if you can. Closed eyes are best for this exercise because it allows you to focus your attention more easily on just your breath and not your external environment. However, you can just focus your open eyes softly on a spot on the floor in front of you if you wish.
  2. Start to breathe in slowly and evenly for a count of FOUR. 1...2...3...4...
  3. Pause at the end of the in-breath for a count of TWO. 1...2...
  4. Exhale slowly and evenly for a count of FOUR. 1...2...3...4...
  5. Pause at the end of the out-breath for a count of TWO.  1...2...
  6. Keep repeating this cycle for a few minutes until you start to feel that your breathing is more normal and you are feeling more relaxed.
  7. If you notice your mind wandering off during this exercise, just gently bring it back and once again focus on your breathe. Normally, if you are counting as you breath in and out, you mind does not have a chance to wander.
  8. Note: the pauses are not intended to be deliberate holding of your breath, rather just a natural pause.

 

Stress and Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of being a healthy human being.  When we sleep our bodies can relax, rest, repair muscles, and process the day’s activities into long term memory.

Lack of sleep can be detrimental in a number of ways. It can affect our mood, appetite, motivation, energy levels, memory, concentration, and decision making ability.  Sleep deprivation can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed and stressed, not sleeping because you are so stressed, then feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated, resulting in feeling stressed because you are not functioning properly.

It is well known that sleep deprivation was used as a form of psychological torture as part of warfare.

Whether you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep because of racing thoughts or stress tension, developing a healthy sleep hygiene routine will start you off in the right direction.  You should of course consult a medical professional if you are experiencing long-term sleep difficulties so that other causes can be explored.

 

Tips for Establishing a New Sleep Routine

  1. No electronic screen time at least one hour before going to bed. Power all your devices down, or turn the sound off, and store them somewhere other than your bedroom.
  2. Darken the room to ensure you get the maximum amount of darkness as the sun comes up.
  3. Start a pre-bed ritual or routine so that your mind and body start to relax and anticipate sleep. Read a book, do a 10-minute mindfulness meditation, do some relaxation yoga poses – anything that helps you to wind down.
  4. Only use your bed for sleep and intimacy.
  5. Start a morning ritual. Before you get out of bed, have a long stretch and then take 5 to 10 deep breaths.
  6. Try to set a regular bedtime - go to bed with the intention of sleeping.  Set your alarm to get up at a regular time - and get up, regardless of how tired you feel. If you haven’t had enough sleep that night, you will be able to naturally catch up in the following days with this routine.
  7. Do not nap during the day, no matter how tired you feel, as this will interrupt establishment of a regular sleep routine. 
  8. If you find yourself lying in bed and not sleeping, intentionally try to relax your body and calm your mind so that you are setting yourself up to sleep when it eventually occurs.
  9. Do some physical exercise every day. This will help you sleep.
  10. Limit the amount of caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks) and other stimulants you have each day.
  11. Try not to drink large amounts of fluid close to bedtime to minimise the amount of times you need to visit the toilet during the night.

 

Stress Management Tools

  1. Get to know how your body feels when it is stressed and when it is not stressed so that you can identify when your muscles are starting to tense up, you’re clenching your jaw etc. so that you can do something about it.
  2. Identify your triggers. What is it that is causing you to feel stressed right now? Notice how you are responding to the stress – your physical sensations, your thoughts, your mood. Have a plan so that you can act immediately.
  3. Learn some simple breathing and relaxation exercises so that you can control your breathing rate and relax muscles in the body, which sends a signal to the brain telling it that the stress has passed.
  4. Develop a healthy work-life balance.
  5. Maintain your social circle - make time for people who nourish you and less time for people who make constant demands of you.
  6. Take a time out if you are getting frustrated, irritated or angry. (See the tips for Anger Management).
  7. Make a list of activities that you can do to reduce and manage your stress levels day-to-day. Perhaps have a look at some of the stress management activities listed above to get you started.
  8. Learn meditation or mindfulness to help to calm your mind. A calm mind can help with sleep, concentration and focus.
  9. Get enough sleep. Develop a healthy sleep hygiene routine.
  10. Get some professional help. Talk things through with a counsellor or mental health professional.

 

How can counselling help?

Talking to a therapist or counsellor may help you to become aware of your limitations, and reassess the external pressures in your life as well as the pressures you may put upon yourself to perform in some way.  Learning how to set goals, make decisions, and be assertive may also be useful skills to learn and practice.  A counsellor can teach you relaxation skills, mindfulness practice, defusion from unhelpful thoughts, as well as strategies for sleep.

 

If you are seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor in Perth, please contact me on 0406 033 644 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

  1. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­American Psychological Association (2010). Stress and Gender. Stress in America. Mind/Body Health: For a Healthy Mind and Body, Talk to a Psychologist.

 

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