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Stress management and counselling

What is stress?

Stress arises from a comparison between the demand on a person and their coping abilities. An imbalance in this coping mechanism, when coping is important, gives rise to the experience of stress, and to the stress response. Coping is both psychological – involving thinking and behavioural strategies, and physiological, involving chemical changes in the body. If normal coping is ineffective, stress is prolonged and abnormal responses may occur. The occurrence of these, and prolonged exposure to stress, may give rise to ill-health, and terminal disease. (Cox and McKay.1991)

Eustress (Hans Selye) Is the stress of achievement or overcoming a challenge. The reaction of the body is the same but we put a different meaning on it ie: exhilaration, triumph, or winning.

a Distress

The inability to cope with the demands being made upon us - real or imagined, this causes feelings of lack of control of situations and of oneself, and general unease. Distress is the stress of losing, insecurity, inadequacy, helplessness, despair, despondency and worry.

b Under Arousal - Over Arousal

Too little stimulation leads to boredom and apathy whereas too much stimulation can go from exciting to a feeling of being overwhelmed and worse.

c Optimum Stress v Negative Stress

When arousal or stimulation is handled effectively it provides the motivation to overcome obstacles to achieve goals. When the arousal gets out of control we become ill or experience poor performance. Everyone’s optimum level is different. When arousal gets out of control the body gives us warning signs to calm down. Unfortunately, sometimes we ignore these signals or treat them inappropriately or with activities that do not help ie: by using drugs, alcohol to calm down or prescribed medicines to alleviate symptoms, without dealing with the problem. So that when you stop the medication the symptoms return because you have not adopted a better coping strategy for dealing with it.

Its not the specific major changes that affect our stress levels but the continual low grade demands like traffic and symbolic or imagined threats which exert a continual nagging anxiety.

Recognising early behavioural signs of stress

Some common signs when under stress are:

  • Increased irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism
  • Signs of tension such as nail biting
  • Difficulty getting to sleep – early morning wakening
  • Increased use of alcohol / cigarettes
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of concentration

It is vitally important to take early action to relieve stress symptoms before they affect your physical / mental well-being. You could do this by giving yourself some space – a day or two off from work / domestic chores and pamper yourself instead, recharge your batteries, you may find you are more productive after a short rest period.

Effects of prolonged arousal

The fight / flight response is a normal reaction designed to protect ourselves from life threatening situations. In other non - life threatening situations it is inappropriate ie: we may respond as though we were going into battle when in actual fact we are just sitting in a chair. Situations such as sitting in traffic jams, a row with someone, the children are playing up etc. Furthermore, our highly developed forebrain can dwell on past events or imagine future ones and maintain the circulation of stress bio-chemicals. Therefore instead of the response being used for physical exertion and to adapt in the short term the effects become long term.


  • Cardio vascular: increased blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes
  • Stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, constipation, diarrhoea
  • Light headedness, fainting – due to hyperventilation – asthma
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Headache, backache, neck and shoulders – due to tension
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Decreased fertility, menstrual disorders
  • Anxiety, panic attacks and phobias

What is acceptable stress?

Feeling well, relaxed manner, physical recreation is pleasurable, can take time to relax with no guilt. Burdens which could cause unhappiness in others are dealt with calmly and effectively. Rapid and flexible thought, originality and vigour are present.

Acceptable Fatigue

Is when you do not deny fatigue, you take steps to recover, and say No to further requests. Others are not anxious about your fatigue.


You may insist you are healthy but others say different. You see no need for relaxation or to increase fitness. Excessive pressures, which disrupt your health, are accepted as inevitable because exhaustion decreases the ability to distinguish the essential from the unessential. Resulting in: -

  • Bad temper, grumbling, longer hours worked with less achieved
  • Sleep becomes inadequate
  • Mannerisms develop which disrupt the peace of mind of others
  • The mind becomes set against changes, lose the ability to be flexible
  • Increased eating, drinking, smoking, drug use………and some people find they can’t eat much at all

Therefore Optimum Stress = either turning up stimulation if an individual is under aroused- bored etc. Or turning down arousal when over stressed.

Reducing stress

Ability to cope with stress alters with a number of positive factors ie: education and training in both social skills and industrial skills, and with a number of negative factors ie: ageing, drug effects, illness and injury. For instance in ageing, if the demands of a job are not modified as a worker ages and is less able to cope then their experience of stress will increase. The worker could have their workload decreased or they could have periodic retraining.


It helps dramatically if you have supportive relationships ie: from parents, friends, colleagues or helping organizations.

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