Stressing Out

Experiencing high-level stress can make anxiety, depression even worse

By David L. Podos

Stress. We all experience it.

But is stress always a bad thing?

Nature has hard-wired us to use stress in positive ways and in some situations, it can actually save our lives.

For instance, if you are being threatened, your stress levels spike. This becomes a warning mechanism producing the flight-or-fight response while pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream.

Usually once the perceived threat is gone, our stress levels then come back down. This is acute stress, and usually passes quite quickly.

When stress becomes chronic, then it can have long-term damaging affects upon the body and mind.

Amber Keefer of livestrong.com, an expert in human services and health care administration, lists some of the top circumstances that cause major stress.

— Childhood trauma: Some individuals experience long-term stress as a result of a traumatic childhood where there was mental and or physical abuse by a parent.

— Death of a loved one: The death of a spouse can be one of the most stressful events a person can face. Stress is compounded when a couple has a lot of debts and the remaining spouse must worry about finances on top of grieving the loss of a spouse.

— Divorce: Divorce is another leading cause of stress among men and women. In addition to dealing with a variety of stressful emotions, divorce usually means that one or both spouses must leave their home. Individuals also may be dealing with disagreements involving division of property, finances, child support and custody issues.

— Finances: Finances, particularly the threat of mortgage foreclosures, are another leading cause of stress. People who live in poverty and individuals who face overwhelming debt or bankruptcy usually experience high levels of stress.

— Job stress: Work-related stress is common among men and women who have demanding jobs and work long hours.

— Health: Personal health issues can be stressful on both children and adults. Working to get well, worrying about medical costs or dealing with an unexpected health crisis or chronic illness can all bring on stress.

— Personal relationships: Everyone is stressed at times by personal relationships, even when relationships are basically good. Couples argue, parents and children fight and occasionally conflict among friends or co-workers can create stress.

Parents’ worst nightmare

— Chronically Ill Child: Parents who have a child with a serious health problem or injury frequently are under a great deal of stress. They worry about the recovery of their child, and may find it difficult to see their child suffering or in pain. There can be financial worries associated with a child’s illness as well.

— Danger: Dangerous situations such as fires, automobile accidents or being the victim of crime can cause stress. Any hazardous event that is out of the ordinary for an individual can cause either short- or long-term physical or emotional stress.

The good news is stress — even chronic stress — can be drastically reduced.

Dominick Nicotera, executive director of DRN Counseling and Consulting Services, Utica, said many of his clients experience chronic stress.

He touched on how stress can exacerbate an already existing mental health condition, how stress affects the body, and ways to reduce stress.

“Behind most disorders, you find some kind of stress.  When stress goes up, whatever mental health disorder a person has, the level of his or her disorder also goes up,” he said. “For example, let’s say someone is dealing with depression. When their stress levels go up, their level of depression and anxiety also increases.”

“When people are dealing with chronic stress, they can have higher blood pressure, a lower immune system which makes them more prone to getting sick, and an increase in headaches and migraines,” said Brooke Lewis, a licensed master of social work and mental health administrator at DRN. “They are also associated at risk for cardiovascular disease.”

DRN features several modalities to help clients reduce stress.

“Most doctors recommend cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of the therapies we at DRN utilize,” says Nicotera. “This therapy interrupts the thinking process with the goal of changing one’s thinking in a more positive way. If you change your thinking, then usually behavior changes as well.”

“We are trying to change one’s perception about the stressors that cause them the stress in the first place,” Lewis said. “We also use dialectical behavior therapy, which helps the client to stay more focused in the present moment. In turn, this supports them to better cope with stress and regulate emotions.”

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