If I look back over 2014 I have worked with clients aged 8 to 80, all of whom sought support for stress or anxiety related conditions; from behavioural issues, severe panic attacks leading to Agoraphobia in extreme cases.
Stress affects us all, no more so than in the workplace and by far the largest percentage of clients I have helped are from professional backgrounds – Financial Advisors, Teachers, Nurses, HR/IT experts, Graphic Designers – all of whom were looking for help to reduce excessive pressure in their lives.
Knowing that our early ancestors faced very real hazards on a daily basis resulting in the development of stress responses to enable survival against predators and we are hard-wired to respond to perceived threats by releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. However, in reality, we rarely face life-threatening situations,but we all still have the in-built automatic response which activates when our minds perceive we are in danger, regardless of whether the threat is ‘real’ or not.
We are not that far removed from cavemen and even though difficulties are work, a house move, exams or relationship problems are not life-threatening, they are the kind of situations that will cause us to become stressed which invokes a primitive reaction.
When we feel under threat, we secrete adrenaline and cortisol, which have a profound effect on our bodies. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and raises our blood pressure. Cortisol increases sugar levels in our blood; it also suppresses the functioning of internal systems, such as our immune response, digestion and reproductive system. Our moods are also affected, impacting our motivation and generating fear.
Prolonged stress can even affect our short-term memory. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Iowa found a link between high levels of cortisol and the gradual loss of synapses in the part of the brain that processes short-term memory. Synapses are connections that process, store, and recall information. Repeated and long-term exposure to cortisol can cause them to shrink and disappear, potentially contributing to mental decline and memory loss as we age. Stress can manifest itself in a number of ways; extreme anxiety, digestive problems, high blood pressure, sleep problems, weight gain, concentration problems and decision-making impairment.
Working with clients to helps lower stress levels by enabling them to relax, giving their mind and body respite from the hormonal onslaught. Then, by using solution focused therapy techniques, clients are encouraged to respond to their situation in a more constructive and positive way, focusing on future events and looking at ways to make tomorrow better than today