What happens when stress really gets out of hand and we find ourselves spinning out of control into a stressed out mess? We start to lose perspective on everything, snapping at the kids and feeling totally overwhelmed by work demands. Our bodies cave in and we find ourselves becoming vulnerable to illness. When stress takes a hold of our lives it effects every area of our functioning – biological/behavioral (disturbed sleep, vulnerability to illness), psychological (weepiness, irritability) and social (social withdrawal, relationship problems). So when it comes to the treatment of stress, just like stress affects us at all these levels, similarly treatment of stress needs to consider and target the impact of stress at the bio psych o and social levels.
The first step in the treatment of stress is the awareness of these factors and the unique way they play out in your life when you are stressed. Ask yourself the question “What am I like when I am stressed? How does stress impact on me at a psychological, biological and social level?” You may respond to stress by needing more sleep and drinking alcohol, psychologically by blocking off your feelings and socially withdrawing. This interrelated pattern of withdrawal across the bio, psycho and social spheres reflects your way of responding to stress. Someone else may respond entirely differently with trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability and snappiness toward others. This interrelated pattern reflects a way of coping with stress based on heightened alertness. If =n formulating an approach to the treatment of your stress notice your “style” of responding to stress. You may need to build this awareness over a number of days and perhaps even ask for feedback from the people around you.
Once you understand your approach to stress and the way it uniquely affects you, you start to formulate a treatment plan incorporating biological/behavioral, psychological and social elements.
At a biological level there are a range of options available for the treatment of stress. You may need to consider medication such as sleeping tablets or tranquilisers at least in the initial phases of the treatment of stress. You may also need to consider medical treatment for any stress induced illnesses such as high blood pressure. Biofeedback and mindfulness techniques such as focused breathing and meditation can go a long way toward regaining control over a stressed out body. As your body and behaviour starts to fall into line, you will notice shifts in your psychological and social functioning as well.
Psychologically once you have a handle on your psychological response to stress consider what kind of treatment you need in order to restore balance at this level. For some downloading a stress management app or connecting to online stress treatment resources may do the trick. Others may feel the need for counselling either in-person or online.
With regard to the social, take stock of those relationships that are supportive versus those that increase your stress. Try and minimise your exposure to stress inducing relationships and spend time with people who have a calming and containing effect on you and make you feel good about yourself. Be aware of your own social needs and respond accordingly. So for instance, if you are a more introverted kind of person, you may choose to deepen your connection with a friend who really supports you, as opposed to a more extroverted person who may need more social variety and intensity as a way of reducing stress (this kind of social interaction may in fact increase stress for an introvert).
There are of course treatments for stress that straddle the bio psycho and social dimensions. For instance attending yoga classes, a regular massage or taking up an outdoor hobby such as hiking can have a tremendous impact on the treatment of stress at all levels. More alternative treatments such as acupuncture or aromatherapy may also be an option.
Effective stress treatment takes into consideration the dynamic interplay between the bio, psycho and social elements of the human condition and addresses these factors inclusively and holistically. So when you are feeling stressed out remember to consider the impact of stress on all these areas and use targeted treatments that cover all your bases.
Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology (Cum Laude) and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She works with adults, teens and children within her areas of expertise. Take a look at her LinkedIn profile