Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life. When we feel it in brief
episodes, we can usually deal with it. Our bodies are designed to manage
short bursts of stressful activity. However, our busy 21st century
lives often have periods of greatly extended stress that take its toll
in many ways; often in illness.
Unlike the creatures in the wild, who are stressed briefly if they
are in danger of being eaten by a larger foe, but who quickly return to a
normal baseline after the threat has passed, humans today typically
have many long, extended stressors that are slow to ease up. This means
that stress hormones are often mobilized for long periods of time
without letup. This affects our bodies in different ways. There are many
illnesses in which stress can specifically play a large role either as
[one of] various causal factors of the illnesses themselves, or as a
subsequent effect, when one has to learn to cope with being ill.
Illness is one of our most difficult challenges to face. We tend to
believe we are in charge of our lives, and will generally do the things
we set out to do. We aren’t planning for the unexpected news that our
body has been stricken with disease. It is an extremely emotional time,
as we have to take in news that we always thought only happened to other
people. In the event of a serious illness such as heart disease,
stroke or diabetes, people are forced to readjust the whole of their
lives to accommodate to this new condition.
Chronic stressors that can contribute to illness (such as work
stress, financial difficulties, relationship problems or parenting
difficulties), as well as the stresses that might accompany living with a
serious illness, (such as adequate health care, worry, fear, life
changes), are unhealthy states and need to be modified.
Learning to manage stressful situations (particularly chronic ones)
before illness strikes as well as learning to manage the stress of
living with an illness (or living with someone else who is ill) is
critical. Sometimes people can make changes in their lives when they
realize where the stress is, so that they can readjust their style of
living to reduce their stress. But this can be difficult to achieve,
especially when it is interpersonal stress. It is challenging to change
old patterns of living with other people, who themselves may not realize
there could be better, more positive, ways to interact. Sometimes just
considering the risk of trying different ways of handling things brings
on its own anxiety.
Psychotherapy helps people learn to manage stress more effectively.
It is important not to tell yourself that stress just happens,
because we do know the physical and emotional effects that occur when it
is ignored. When feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges and
struggles, a psychotherapist can listen to your concerns and help you
find more positive and effective ways to manage them.
Copyright Kathi Whitten 2007