Stress Management

Should I See A Counselor For Stress?

Though stress is not a specific mental health diagnosis, it is a real psychological issue that can lead to multiple physical illnesses.

Occasionally feeling stressed can be good for us – motivating even. Have you had an impending deadline and the stress gives you a jolt of energy in the last few minutes before the due date, pushing you to finish? Had butterflies in your stomach before asking for that special someone’s phone number? That, is stress – something called acute stress; and we all feel it.

Chronic stress is when a person feels stressed out over long periods of time, negatively affecting almost every system in your body. Stop for a moment and think. When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, how does your stomach feel? What about your head? Muscles? When we feel stress, it causes our bodies to release adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline is responsible for immediate reactions when we feel stressed. It increases our breathing, pumps up our heart rate and tenses our muscles – it prepares our bodies to fight off or quickly get away from something we believe can be harmful.

Picture this. You’re merging onto the freeway, speeding up as you enter the on ramp. In your car’s side mirror, you see a car, approaching quickly from the next lane. You look back in front of you and see that the lane you’re in will end quickly and you’ll have to merge over into this quickly approaching cars lane FAST.  What to do? You slam on your breaks, the car whizzes by and you move over into the lane behind it just in time. The adrenaline released during this stressful situation helped your brain focus, sort through all possible courses of action, choose one and implement it…all within a matter of seconds.  Adrenaline is sure handy…. but having chronic stress means feeling this way most of the time.

Cortisol, another hormone released in our bodies when we are under stress, takes a little more time to filter through our blood stream. Cortisol is complicated. It’s release is a multi-step process involving two different parts of the brain. In short – cortisol helps maintain blood pressure, and fluid balance involving body functions that aren’t essential to survival like immunity, digestion and reproductive systems. Again, thanks cortisol, for all that you do when we’re stressed out.  But if our immune, digestive and reproductive systems are continuously saturated in this hormone, they can become suppressed – increasing blood sugar and blood pressure. This can lead to low sex drive, acne and weight gain.

The goal with stress is to face it. Shake it off and move on. But, what if the stressful situation is continuous? Or the stress is felt because of a past traumatic experience? This is when it is time to consult with a counselor as, high stress levels could be a warning sign for another mental health condition. Counselors are available to talk to you about how stress is affecting your life today.