Managing the effects of stress by improving coping, resilience and awareness.
In today’s competitive environment, work-related stress, with its pressures and demands, is one of the most frequent challenges in coping with stress. Difficulties that arise in relationships or life events can also test our ways to cope with stress; our own high expectations or feelings of guilt, anxiety or self-criticism can tax our emotional resources.
People have different ways to cope with stress and with varying degrees of success. In the face of so many sources of stress, psychotherapy is a direct effort to improve coping and psycho-biological resilience by increasing the facility for regulating difficult emotions, by generating improved coping skills, and by strengthening the capacity for emotional safety.
Stress has strong biological and psychological components and occurs when internal or external demands are greater than a person’s capacity to cope with them, or when one’s coping mechanisms are persistently tested. Prolonged stress and its effects on the body and mind can severely compromise health and can cause chronic disease.
In today’s world stress levels are almost pandemic, and our competitive, deadline-driven work environments are often the most persistent cause of it. Professional demands and the pressure to deliver, fear of losing one’s job, competition, and difficult interpersonal interactions are all significant sources of stress, particularly if one’s resources and capacity to cope are low.
Relationships are also a significant source of stress. Difficult interpersonal dynamics and the feelings they provoke can be challenging and draining, and at times can feel impossible. Similarly, life events like an injury, a difficult pregnancy, or an ailing family member are a source of stress or trauma, and can feel insurmountable. Too much stress early in life may also predispose an individual to have difficulty coping with it later in life.
Perhaps one of the most painful sources of stress is from the self; high expectations, guilt, anxiety, depression and self-criticism can be emotionally taxing.
Dr. Wu’s approach with mindfulness-based stress reduction is a systematic evaluation of the experience of distress in the mind and body, in all its forms, including physical pain, physiological stress and negative mental states. By focusing and expanding awareness together, mindfulness opens new pathways for coping with old stressors.
PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)
PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that suggests a person has not recovered from a traumatic event, whether it happened recently or in the past. Recent trauma can include external events such as being caught in a disaster or being a witness to, or victim of, violence. It can also include severe psychosocial stressors, such as losing a job or one’s health—in essence, losing control. Children are particularly susceptible the effects of traumatic events, as their neuropsychology is still developing and may be adversely altered by the stress.
The more intense the trauma, the more likely it is that an individual will suffer PTSD. While the bleeding and damage of a physical wound is a result of severe physical trauma, the mental breakdown and damage of a psychic wound is a result of severe psychological trauma. PTSD may occur shortly after a traumatic event but, unlike the body, it may occur many years afterward, or something in between, with many recurring episodes.
Individuals suffering from symptoms of PTSD are effectively re-living their trauma, attempting to cope with the memory of it by avoiding or outright blocking the re-experience of it, and experiencing anticipatory anxiety against the fear that the trauma or some equivalent threat may re-occur. PTSD caused by an acute, single event, like a traumatic accident, can be easier to heal from than from protracted exposure to trauma, such as living through a war, or surviving a noxious family or political regime.
People who suffer post-traumatic stress often have other psychological difficulties at the same time. It’s not unusual for people with symptoms of PTSD to also suffer depression, anxiety, anger, attentional problems, compromised immune systems, etc.
Dr. Wu’s approach with PTSD is to help the individual to process the trauma in a safe setting at a controllable pace, and to work through the strong reactions and emotions associated with it, including survivor guilt, anger and fear.
Read more about: Mindfulness Therapy
Resources for Stress
Stress Tip Sheet
Stress in America Report by American Psychological Association (2007-2011)
Stress won’t go away? Maybe you are suffering from chronic stress
Managing traumatic stress: Tips for recovering from disasters and other traumatic events
Anxiety and sadness may increase on anniversary of a traumatic event