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Understanding Stress – Stress Awareness Month 2017

Understanding stress

Stress Awareness Month 2017

Person-centred counsellor Charmaine Arnold gives us a deeper insight into understanding stress.

All of us from time to time or even frequently have said, “I am feeling stressed” to describe how we feel when we experience situations we believe are not in our control. We can believe that Stress is harmful but in fact there is Good Stress and Bad Stress.


Good Stress enables us to grow and develop our skills, for example if you have to give a speech to a large group of people you may feel quite daunted by the prospect if this is something you have never done before. It would be quite normal to feel anxious about how they may perceive you and whether they are going to enjoy what you have to say. However, after the event, you may feel a sense of achievement even if everything hasn’t gone completely to plan: the fact that you were able to talk in front of a large group will build your confidence make you realise that you are capable of achieving more.

Bad Stress is debilitating and less easy to manage. The pace of life can be stressful – we have to mange the major life changes such as marriage, parenthood, unemployment, bereavement, overwork or ill health without the network of support that previous generations relied upon. For some, stress may not be related to such specific events but may have developed in early childhood as an anxiety response to difficult situations. This response may have been carried into adult life as the characteristic way of dealing with difficulties.

Stress affects us in many different ways. Some people develop stress related illnesses such as asthma, hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and a host of others. Some suffer from free-floating anxiety symptoms, panic attacks, muscular tension and hyperventilation. It is estimated that one in four people will suffer from stress at some time in their lives and it is the most common symptoms treated by Doctors in the western world.

So, what exactly is stress?
Our bodies react to stress in a similar way that we react to fear. We often experience fear when we have cause to be concerned about our well-being or safety. If we feel under threat in this way our bodies may respond with the Fight or Flight Syndrome. This syndrome prepares our bodies to fight or flee from danger and so the physical changes we experience will cause our heartbeat to increase, our breathing to become faster yet shallow (hyperventilate), all our senses will become heightened and work better, our muscles will become tense and our hands and feet will become colder as we begin to sweat to cool ourselves as the changes in out bodies will make us feel hot and uncomfortable.

The Fight or Flight Syndrome is our instinctive reaction to danger. Many situations that are not really dangerous or life threatening can set off this response and our bodies will react as if our lives are actually being threatened.

When there is no enemy to fight or run from the physical feelings created by the Fight or Flight Syndrome have no release and this is how we begin to build up stress.  

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