Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and Stress

Simply put, both of these are inevitable parts of life that have the potential to become larger problems for us. Stress is how we adapt to something that happens inside us in response to a challenge; it may be positive (we get something done) or negative (we feel exhausted or sick). In a strict sense, stress is when our balance gets upset. It has a biological basis in that we produce hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine whose job it is to make our bodies strong and ready for action. If we are facing a life-threatening emergency, this can be exactly what we need. If not, or if this adaptation goes on too long, the stress hormones can increase the normal wear and tear on our bodies. For example, recent (2013) research indicates that the way we perceive our social conditions can even affect what happens in our genes.

Anxiety can keep us alert to change and help us cope. We react to something that we perceive to be happening that might threaten us. If the situation is real and we address it successfully, the anxiety has served us well, and we will probably be fine. However, anxiety can be a pattern that works against us. We human beings can perceive threats that do not in fact exist. If we get too anxious, it actually hinders our ability to think clearly and respond creatively to the situation. So anxiety may become acute. It also may become chronic, in the sense that it a person has ongoing anxiety at some level that makes them more vulnerable to a spike during a crisis. All of us have some of this, and some of us, particularly when we come from relatively more anxious families, have more anxiety of the chronic variety.

The effects of intense anxiety and stress are many: we are more at risk for any number of physical illnesses; our self-awareness, resiliency, and imagination become more limited; we can experience more conflict and blaming with others; we can even lose touch with our basic ethical and spiritual values. Therefore managing anxiety and stress, perhaps in new ways, is often central to the counseling process.