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What is Stress?

Nearly half of Americans reported that their levels of stress have increased over the course of the last 5 years. Stress affects people of all ages today, even kids. Though stress is prevalent in modern life, our culture doesn’t always foster helpful or healthy ways in dealing with it.

Stress is our body’s response to some kind of demand or threat. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s a great tool for survival. However, when experienced for prolonged periods of time, stress can cause psychological and/or physical problems. According to research from the American Psychological Association, individuals who have particularly stressful jobs are often at a higher risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and it can further exacerbate current chronic health conditions. Additionally, people with depression and obesity report higher average levels of stress.

Is there such a thing as good stress?

Stress is a normal human experience that everyone undergoes from time to time. It motivates us to get out of bed in the morning and be productive throughout our day. Having normal levels of stress is good. It’s when the amount of stress becomes overwhelming and chronic that can negatively affect our mental and physical health.

How does our body respond to stress?

Our body’s first reaction to stress is to release adrenaline into the bloodstream as part of our “fight or flight” response. This increases our heart rate, shunts blood away from our exterior body parts, and increases our blood pressure. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is our body preparing us to face a threat, to either face it head-on or flee. The fight-or-flight response gets enacted for acute or short term stress. Long term or chronic stress causes the release of cortisol, one of our body’s many hormones. Cortisol has been linked to depressive and anxious responses to stress and physical illnesses.

When is it time to consider therapy to help manage your stress?

A person should consider making an appointment to see a therapist if his or her stress is affecting their mood, anxiety, or social functioning. If you feel completely overwhelmed by the stressors in your life and you are not able to complete work or if it interferes with important aspects of your life, talking to a therapist could help. A therapist can help you pinpoint the stressors in your life if you’re not able to or if you don’t know how to manage it.

How can Union Square Practice help me with my stress?

A clinician can help you find the cause of the stress in your life and help you develop ways to manage it. Medication such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) may be used for chronic stress.  However, therapy is often the best long-term strategy. For some, medication is often a temporary solution while developing the mental skills to healthily deal with stress. Clinicians can help clients develop a mental “toolkit” of strategies to cope with their stress. Some strategies may be deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, exercise, and better nutrition.

Mindfulness strategies have also been popular to treat stress and other conditions. Mindfulness is a practice that helps people get in the moment and learn to direct their thoughts rather than get caught up in them. This practice is often combined with other cognitive strategies in order to help develop the ability to choose a helpful response instead of an innate reaction that may not be beneficial.