There is a difference between stress and anxiety. Can you use it?
Stress can often be experienced as physical sensations, such as a flutter in the tummy, a tightening in the chest, and a sense of needing to respond to, or do something, in response to life’s pressures. Perhaps a deadline, a house move, job change, or marriage. It stimulates adrenaline, changes our mood, and gets us emotionally aroused and ready for action.
Stress can be thought of like Goldilocks' porridge: too little and things feel boring or nothing gets done; too much and we feel strain and can’t respond; and just right, we feel able to healthily respond to the demands around us (this good stress is called eustress).
Once we have acted or responded, the stress is relieved and our mind and body retreat from the temporary ‘flight or fight’ response - the body goes 'back to normal'. Our blood pressure lowers, our heart beats slower, our head clears, our breathing settles, tense muscles relax and we feel a lot less irritable.
Unhealthy stress (which is strain) can make the symptoms worse and result in anxiety, whereby the physical symptoms become more intense; the chest hurts, breath gasps, the brain dizzies and we may feel faint. Worry and fear take over and a panic attack follows. We may have a debilitating sense that there is ‘nothing we can do’.
This is anxiety, which counsellors distinguish from stress because it last longer, even beyond the point at which the initial pressure point, or stressor, has been addressed. The sense of doom and fear tends to continue.
Whilst stress tends to be useful in helping us to ‘get things done’ it still pays to have had a little bit of ‘psycho-education’ (i.e. explanation from a counsellor on how and why stress arises, and how you can respond with it).
As with the anxiety, the first thing a counsellor will do is show the client how to take back physical control and get calm. The counsellor will then teach, explain or educate the client on the natural biological, physiological and psychological causes and needs of stress.
Where the client is suffering with anxiety, the counsellor will help them identify which of their emotional needs are not being met, using an emotional needs audit. Then they will help them reframe, or adjust faulty thinking and beliefs. This leads into a calm set of plans for the future, which in turn helps to abate the anxiety.
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About Keith Abrahams
Keith Abrahams is widely experienced and trained in various psychology models. He has practiced as a therapist both privately and as a volunteer, with a specialism in working with trauma. He lectures in business and leadership for professional development organisations.