Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

Everyone understands what it means to feel stress. And sadly, many know all too well what it means to be overly stressed in their daily lives. It’s certainly not a healthy thing, but how often do you consider what it does to your quality of life?  

Generally, you find yourself stressed from too many commitments to others or yourself. You start juggling things to meet external or internal demands that become increasingly oppressive. Yet, sometimes people don’t realize they can re-negotiate the conditions of their lives to reduce all this stress. Instead, they often find themselves trying to find ways to increase the time needed to meet the growing demands, which can only come from decreasing the time for pleasurable and relaxing activities (the very things that can lower stress). That’s all it takes to start finding oneself caught in a stress-trap that can spiral out of control and feel repressive.

Trying to meet excessive demands coming from within oneself or others affects the choices people make for how they think and behave. To meet ever-increasing external demands, people sometimes add more and more tasks to their schedule, at great personal expense. Not infrequently, this leads to feelings of resentment toward the source of the demands rather than learning to set limits or asking others for help.  

Striving to meet one’s own inner expectations can be as exhausting as meeting external ones. Often people hold standards for themselves to which they would never hold others. This striving for perfection can lead to feelings of self-criticism and guilt. Some people believe they must always appear a certain way—perhaps cheerful, wise or clever, making it difficult to accept the very human tendency to sometimes feel or be quite different.Trying to keep up with increasing levels of daily tasks while too stressed, or to remain inwardly self-confidant when in the grips of a tyrannical inner voice can lead to endless cycles of self-recrimination, futile efforts to improve, exhaustion, and feelings of powerlessness.   

When one is too stressed, and is progressively limiting life’s naturally de-stressing activities instead of learning to set limits or feel less self-critical, one feels a loss of joyful living. Stress can have even worse effects than that. In some instances, it can be associated with anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, physical disease, or unsuccessful or unrewarding interpersonal relationships.  

It is possible to get one’s life into better balance and to find ways to live a more satisfying life. Sometimes overly stressed people are on such a self-reinforcing treadmill of inner and outer demands, that they don’t even realize that things could be different, that is is possible to meet life's demands with a sense of equanimity.

This is where psychotherapy can be helpful. It is a process in which people can examine the aspects of their lives that feel demanding, frantic or unsatisfying. They can discover ways to re-order their lives to make more effective choices, learn to meet life's stresses with improved coping skills and develop what is needed to live a more valued life.

Kathi Whitten, LCSW Copyright 2007