David Haacke (Snr accred) Senior accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Counselling for Central London and The City

Stress - a sense of failure or essential for change and development?

Few people like to admit to feeling stressed and for some people stress is still experienced as a personal failure, a sign of weakness and yet everyone will have felt it at some time. If you want to get on in life then regular, gentle stress - like regular exercise - can boost self-confidence and encourage movement and a sense of self determination. Too much can undermine it.

Change or progression or movement in life is important but can be an anxious time. Too much (or too little) change going on at once can be stressful and too much stress can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illness or panic.

Put simply, stress occurs when, at a particular moment, you feel as if you are stuck, overwhelmed by circumstances. This may be that you have taken on too much and can't cope; your intray is full and can't process any more but you're not sure what to do about it. Or it could be that your intray is empty, you're stuck and underwhelmed and you don't know how to fill it - you're bored and do not feel able to create / change things for yourself. No surprise then that if, in good economic times, you have been a high achiever putting in long hours at work and invested heavily in this work relationship then, during an economic recession / depression when there is less to do and "achieve", a part of your identity - what makes you feel good about yourself and provides self esteem or validation - will have been lost leaving you feeling anxious, low, redundant or perhaps depressed.

All of this can show as anxiety, anger, restlessness, depression, indecision, over / under achievement, helplessness, poor & interrupted sleep, addiction, obsessive behaviour, chronic tiredness, panic attacks or physical illness. At its most extreme it can feel like you are falling apart or deeply depressed. That is why work / life balance, not investing all your feel good eggs in one basket, is so important. But if that's what you know and has always worked for you then how do you take the risk of letting go a little in order to find something else in addition?

Sometimes the "cause" is temporary and obvious (new job / house) and all you need to do is slow down, pace yourself, take breaks and, where possible, unload on others!

But sometimes, for less obvious reasons or reasons we don't like to admit to, we feel less able to carry out even our usual activities. If a significant change in personal circumstance occurs, (eg close relationship break up or loss of family member / friend) then this may affect your ability to carry out your usual activities as you are also trying to come to terms with more difficult emotional change. This emotional change is painful and illogical but requires time and effort to process which, unhelpfully, you may try to avoid by "working even harder" (!?) which only further increases the stress. These effects may not be obvious at first but if you do not take them into account then they may cause longer term difficulties; eg depression, panic or unsustainable activity leading to collapse.

Some stress can build up over a very long time - years, decades or a lifetime. It may be you are someone who, short term, finds it difficult to say "no" and so, over a period of time, backs yourself into a corner taking on more and more "work". Life feels like a chore to be survived, each day threatening to add yet more to your load. The joy that gets you up in the morning has gone and anxiety and depression loom.

Perhaps you've never felt that joy that seems to
get others up in the morning and wonder why?

Stress is common and its causes and effects, including anxiety and depression, complex. Counselling can help to untangle this maze, offering both understanding of why you've got to where you've got to and practical tips as to how to manage stress in your life.

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