This month, Accepting Therapy’s blog posts will discuss some of the reasons people begin therapy to improve overall perception and understanding of mental health. People go to therapy for countless reasons and one of these is to help cope with stress.
It is common to experience feelings of stress on a weekly, or even daily, basis. Despite this, I am often told that people do not see stress as a ‘valid’ reason to go to therapy. A potential reason for this, is an increased focus on clinical anxiety on social media platforms and pop psychology articles. This has led to a greater understanding of anxiety and has helped eradicate the stigma of mental health. However, this has also potentially contributed to a lack of discussion of the impact of stress on our mental health and perhaps invalidated some people’s experiences.
Stress can lead to: burnout, lack of life balance, diminished quality of life, neglect of physical health (sleep, exercise, eating habits, etc.) and, if not attended to, can create mental and physical health issues. Therapy is meant to protect, improve and maintain your mental health. Mental health is not limited to severe mental illness and it is important to shift this mindset so that all aspects of mental health can be cared for.
Here is what stress can look like to provide an understanding of why therapy is an appropriate avenue for diminishing stress:
- Strained social life: struggling to attend social events, keep in contact with friends or make plans due to feeling stressed, exhausted or overworked.
- Relationship difficulties: stress can lead to increased aggression, irritability, arguments, anger, strained sex life and lack of healthy communication.
- Severe procrastination: playing video games, watching television or engaging in other distractions in an attempt to regulate stress through avoidance behaviors.
- Insomnia: sleep is often disrupted in moments of stress and, in prolonged feelings of stress the consequences become concerning. These include lowered immune system, increased irritability, increased appetite or poor work performance.
- Avoiding stress producing triggers: a trigger is anything that arouses feelings of stress. For example: shutting down at home to avoid your partner asking how your day was.
- Neglecting physical exercise: in times of stress, finding the energy for anything extra is almost impossible and exercise is often the first thing to go. This not only impacts physical health but also mental health through decreased self-esteem, unhealthy dieting, low body image and self-confidence.
- Gaining or losing weight: stress impacts appetite and may lead to forgetting to eat, not planning for meals or eating to self-soothe.
- Burnout: all the above indicators can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Burnout can cause feelings of numbness, low motivation, diminished energy and difficulty empathizing with others.
Stress is something many of us blow off and perceive as a ‘normal’ experience. Stress has severe consequences, however, and examining the impact stress can have sheds light on the intensity of the experience. I hope this examination of the complexity of stress helps validate the desire for a person coping with stress to seek therapy and support.