Stress is a complex term to define. It’s simplest definition might be that it is an event or situation that forces a person to adapt to the event. Stress is the event itself and the reaction to that event within the person experiencing it. Thus stress is completely subjective. What may be stressful to one person might be pleasant or fun to another. Flying, for example, can cause some people to develop anxieties and panic attacks while others love to fly and look forward to the flight. What is more, everyone’s body responds in the same way to a stressful event, or any event for that matter, but the people that suffer from stress related illness and problems find it hard to turn their body’s response off.
Psychological stress is more to do with the turning off of the body’s stress responses to a situation.
The body’s stress response is to increase the flow of hormones adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream. This has the affect of raising the heart rate, redirecting blood from the extremities and stomach to the vital organs, changing the consistency of the blood for potential injury and making our senses more aware.
You could liken this to the charge in a battery. The body charges itself up to a high voltage ready for discharge. In the analogy of the battery, if we were to keep on charging the battery without a chance for it to discharge it would eventually explode. If our body’s continue to be flooded with adrenaline and our heart rate is constantly high we will develop health problems which could be fatal.
Psychological stress may have evolved from a real event that caused an emotional disturbance in the past. This event may have been the messy splitting up from a relationship that lead to emotional pain. As the event recedes into the past other sentiments within the persons psyche tend to cause anxiety and stress. So the person might feel unattractive to the opposite sex or lose confidence in socialising with people. These issues will cause stress for the person and can lead to other behaviours that induce stress. They may find it hard to stay focussed or feel that their personality is disintegrating or get anxiety attacks.
All these issues are, effectively, in the mind of the person. They will cause the body to react as if it was under some form of stress when in fact it is not. If this continues for any length of time the person could suffer from ill-health.
Through counselling the person can understand that these issues are not important because there is nothing that the person can do to change the event. Counselling can help people to accept the initial stressful event and rationalise the subsequent stress inducing thoughts. The biggest problem with psychological stress however is that the average person cannot identify psychological stress let alone trace it back to a source. This is why some form of counselling or group sessions can help but many people are reluctant to do this because they feel uncomfortable admitting something is wrong.