capitola counseling

Articles on Marriage and Family Therapy

Chronic Stress

couple stressAccording to American Psychological Association; APA’s 2010 Stress in America survey, more than 40 percent of all adults say they lie awake at night because of stress. 

Stress is often described as a feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down. Stress can affect people of all ages, genders and circumstances and can lead to both physical and psychological health issues. By definition, stress is any uncomfortable “emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.” Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences and adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems.

As a licensed counselor I have to first say that you have made a healthy decision to acknowledge the stress in your life and to seek out support in order to manage it throughout your daily life. 

Many individuals come into counseling with different areas of their life that seem to be unmanageable.  Those feelings are completely valid and need to be recognized.  By working through your stress you will begin to see the that you have great strengths and coping abilities in which you can rely on.  However, life can thrown you too many severe stressors all at once and you will simply reach your "tipping point".  We all have a point at which we can no longer carry the full load all by ourselves.

Here are just a few areas of stress you may relate to found on WEB MD. Personal problems that can cause stress include:

    • Your health, especially if you have a chronic illness such as heart diseasediabetes, or arthritis.
    • Emotional problems, such as anger you can't express, depression, grief, guilt, or low self-esteem.
    • Your relationships, such as having problems with your relationships or feeling a lack of friendships or support in your life.
    • Major life changes, such as dealing with the death of a parent or spouse, losing your job, getting married, or moving to a new city.
    • Stress in your family, such as having a child, teen, or other family member who is under stress, or being a caregiver to a family member who is elderly or who has health problems. 
    • Conflicts with your beliefs and values. For example, you may value family life, but you may not be able to spend as much time with your family as you want.

Social and job issues that can cause stress include:

    • Your surroundings. Living in an area where overcrowding, crime, pollution, or noise is a problem can create chronic stress.
    • Your job. Being unhappy with your work or finding your job too demanding can lead to chronic stress. Learn how to manage job stress.
    • Your social situation. Being poor, feeling lonely, or facing discrimination based on your race, gender, age, or sexual orientation can add stress to your life.

Stress varies for each individual and therefore we must also find our own unique way to handle these difficult situations and times in life. In order to manage stress it’s important to find key points or areas of your life that help to relieve your stress.  Those can come directly from an individual therapy sessions or from within your own self discovery. You are already well on your way to managing the serious stress overload in your life once you’ve acknowledge the burden and seek a new path. 


It is a fact that none of us can take care of others in our lives unless we take care of ourselves first.  I recently worked with a determined woman whom made her own realization that she needed to make time for music, dance and reading in her life.  These activities have been especially important to maintain within her daily life.  Therefore during stressful times she can seek relief and find the doorway to once again creating balance in her life. 

In the past this self care has been stigmatized as selfish or self centered but there is extensive research psychologically and spiritually that we cannot extend ourselves to love others unconditionally and care for them on a daily basis (if life demands this of us) unless we are able to refuel and nourish ourselves on a regular basis to maintain balance. The degree of our own inner balance determines whether or not we approach the people and tasks in our lives from a place of fullness and love versus depletion and resentment. 

The good news is that coming from the place of fullness and love and basically allowing ourselves to surrender to the challenges and circumstances of our lives transforms our interactions into acts of healing, kindness, and love. These acts can lend themselves to changing our circumstances, changing others, and most importantly, transforming ourselves into the person that we would like to become.  Life has a way of presenting the circumstances that will facilitate the deepest and most profound growth within ourselves if we open ourselves to the process and allow the transformation.

 One area that can prove very helpful as you move through the days and months of your challenging and demanding life is to develop the discipline of being present only to the "now" moment, as they say. This is a philosophical, emotional and spiritual stance in life that bears much fruit and can lighten the heavy burdens that we carry on a daily basis. Some find this experience of being present to the now moment in dance and movement or in music both of which can be meditative in effect. Any activity or quiet space that you find that brings you to this centered sense of presence in the now moment is not only profoundly nourishing and able to fill you up to the brim but most importantly, we see only what is in front of us at the moment and simply, easily and lightly "put one foot in front of the other" and move along moment to moment without feeling overwhelmed and depleted. 

This is a discipline that takes time, awareness and practice to hone into perfection - but it is also an easy skill to begin using and working with every moment of your life.  The specific details vary from person to person but the overall effect is the same: anxiety, depression, feeling burdened and often hopeless and powerless. It is important in terms of self care to pay attention to your diet and exercise. Both can have a profound effect in reducing and relieving both anxiety and depression. 

If your "tipping point" tipped you over so far that these interventions do not allow you to access your full self again, medication can also always be considered for a short time. If you want to consider this option, I would suggest spending more time talking with a counselor about your current symptoms, family history of anxiety and depression and your own personal history of experiencing these emotions. Together you and the counselor can decide if approaching your family doctor to discuss the option of medication would be helpful for you. Many of my clients use medication for a brief period of time and find tremendous relief to regain their equilibrium and balance in their life. Other clients are opposed to using any medication and find many natural supports to facilitate their return to a balanced state within themselves and their own lives. These natural supports can include exercise, acupuncture, vitamins, chiropractic or other alternative care resources in your area. 

The important thing I want to convey to each individual is that your description of your situation and stress level is often the same story that brings young single moms and dads, married women and men, working women and men and even grandparents into counseling for the first time. You are way ahead of the game in that you are already reaching out and you already have clearly identified the burden of stress. The next step is to find clear insights and ideas that can bring you immediate support and balance. Congratulations. You are right to realize that you cannot go through this alone right now. You need to utilize all the supports you have to move through this time in your life feeling alive, well, nourished and able to give the same to all those who depend on you. The key skill in doing this is the ability to set boundaries. We know when and how we need them when we realize that taking on everyone's problems or letting their problems too close when we are overwhelmed ourselves, takes us right to the tipping point. Knowing this and experiencing this allows you to take a deep breath, back up a moment and just say no until you have gathered yourself together enough to allow yourself to be open again. This will happen when the other stressors are removed or lessened. It is a daily balancing act, moment to moment.

There are numerous ways and techniques to reduce your stress in order to enhance your mind and body.  I would love to help be a part of the learning process by becoming a source of support and direction as you navigate this new and challenging terrain in your life. My approach is educational, practical, skill based and existentially based in terms of being present to life on its own terms. Counseling is all about sharing your struggles and taking the risk of reaching out for support.

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