We cannot escape stress. We are surrounded by it in our busy lives, where we tend to get as many things done as possible in as short time as possible.

What is stress? Stress is a normal physical response to situations that are perceived as being dangerous. We perceive our abilities to cope with this danger as being inadequate to handle it. So, we get ready for a fight or flight. When we face a danger, our breathing and heart beat increase, and so does our blood pressure; we sweat, we feel a rush of adrenaline; our muscles get tense, and we become very alert. Stress, therefore, is nature’s ways of protecting us by shifting our body responses into high gear and thus increasing our chances of survival. In this way, we get ready to deal with the danger.

Some stress is to be expected, and, in fact, it can be even positive. However, when it gets too intense, or when it becomes a chronic way of life, we are likely to experience serious health problems, both physically and emotionally.

If the stress persists, in fact, our body can develop symptoms like aches and pain all over our body; we may suffer from digestive problems, we may have difficulties concentrating and remembering; we may feel anxious most of the time, irritable, overwhelmed; we cannot relax. I could go on and on, but you get my point of why acute or chronic stresses are bad for you.

And who wants all this?

When we feel stressed, we try to cope with all these symptoms by getting our minds off the areas that cause stress. However, while some of these ways are healthy, some are not. Drinking too much, for instance, or relying on drugs, cigarettes, overeating or oversleeping obviously are not good ways of coping with stress. They don’t remove the cause of it and don’t help us learn good and healthy coping skills. They are, however, quite popular because, temporarily, they allow us to tune out how we feel, so we can better manage our emotions and relax for a little bit. When their effects are over, though, we find ourselves in the same original position we were in at the beginning, or even worse, and this pushes us to seek more relief by using again. Eventually we become dependent on some substance to make us feel better, in this way adding another problem to the original one.

Some healthy ways of dealing with stress, temporarily, are: taking a relaxing bath; going for a walk; doing some relaxation and meditation exercises; listening to calming music, and so on. These are ways of getting our minds off the reason(s) for our stress and, giving us a needed break. However, they don’t address the cause(s) of the problem. So, none of the ways we discussed so far, be them healthy or unhealthy, really help you in the long run.

Are there better ways of coping with stress? Absolutely there are. These are ways that help reduce the distance between the seriousness of the problem and our abilities to cope with it. Once we feel that we have the ability to handle a stressful situation, in fact, we can reduce the amount of stress we feel.

In the following blog we will discuss some of these healthy ways of assessing both situations that can create stress and our resources in dealing with them.
Think of some of the ways in which you cope with stress: what’s helpful and effective to you? Write down some of your answers and compare them to what we will suggest in our next blog!

Author's Bio: 

My name is Daniela Roher, I am a psychotherapist trained in Europe and the US and have been in practice for over 30 years. I have studied in Italy (University of Torino), England (Universities of Cambridge and Oxford), and the United States (Wayne State University), thereby achieving a deep understanding of the human mind and psychopathology. My training includes classes and workshops at the Tavistock Institute in London, England and the London Family Institute, as well as at UCLA. I received a postdoctoral certificate in adult psychoanalytic psychotherapy from the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute, and this model continues to deeply influence my approach and work today.