Stress can be defined as “the brain’s response to any demand” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When people face demands-physical or emotional- the brain releases chemicals and hormones to help the body deal with those demands. This response can be helpful, but if prolonged, it can begin to affect a person’s health and well-being.
Many people think their day-to-day stress has nothing to do with them physically, that stress and physical health are separate entities when they really aren’t. When we feel stressed, physically or mentally, it begins to affect our bodies. We become caught up in our limbic brains, which puts us in constant fight-or-flight mode.
As part of the fight or flight response, heart rate and blood pressure increase. People develop a heightened awareness of their surroundings, and they become anxious. These changes occur to prepare the body to react in a dangerous situation, but if left untreated for a long period, as in response to chronic stress, they can eventually lead to panic.
Often people start to associate panic with the situation they were in when it occurred. For example, they’re in Walmart when suddenly they start to have a panic attack. Now, they are afraid to go to Walmart. They’re afraid there’s going to be a catastrophe, and they’re not going to be able to survive it.
Then, more negative or inaccurate thinking begins, and their condition spirals from there. They begin to deteriorate physically. Many of my patients will come to me after they have been to the emergency room with heart palpitations, sweating and other symptoms, thinking they’re having a heart attack.
When the heart symptoms they experience are not cardiac events, it becomes apparent their symptoms are manifestations of the stress and panic they feel. I address these issues using several proven approaches.
For one, I help clients challenge their inaccurate thoughts. They might think if they don’t get a hundred things done in a day, the day is going to end in a catastrophe. This is an example of an inaccurate thought. The fact that they’re running a few minutes late is not the end of the world.
In addition to challenging their thinking, I help patients stabilize their health with diet and exercise. Studies show that sugar makes anxiety worse, so eliminating high sugar processed foods from their diet often helps greatly.
I also help patients understand that they need emotional balance, physical health and spiritual awareness. That’s simply time they take when they’re not on the phone or the computer, and they’re just quiet and still and present. Often, I have patients do some type of meditation or sit outside and look at the sky or appreciate the music they are listening to. This can take them from the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic, which is where they feel relaxed, calm and at peace.
Counseling can be an effective tool in combating the effects of stress. If people are wiling to do the work, stress is something that can be greatly improved in a short amount of time. It is something I have tremendous success with in very few sessions.
*Denise Schonwald is a registered nurse as well as a licensed mental health counselor practicing at Four Pillars located at 8209 Natures Way, Suite 221, Lakewood Ranch. For more information, call 941-373-3955, email Info@FourPillasFlorida.com or visit www.fourpillarsflorida.com/counseling