Our health, happiness, well-being and energy rest on a fairly fragile balance between the demands life puts on us and our coping resources.
If this balance slips, if life becomes too demanding or if our coping resources have been reduced stress effects can result.
Stress effects vary in severity but they can lead into more serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, panicky feelings or physical ill-health symptoms and exhaustion.
Many people feel they have slipped away from their normal sense of well-being – they feel tired, irritable, less resilient, they are sleeping less well, life is becoming a struggle, they feel unhappy and low, they might feel overwhelmed by too many demands.
For some there are clear events which have triggered these feelings - a major change at work or at home, relationship difficulties, or suffering a major loss. For others there are no specific events – life has just become too demanding, struggling to fulfil too many expectations at work and at home.
Anxiety Disorder including Phobias, Panic Disorder (panic attacks)
Most people feel anxious at some point; it is an entirely normal response to something stressful. There are times when a little anxiety actual motivates us to do well. However at other times anxiety can become more persistent impacting on everyday life; a persistent feeling of uneasiness that can become overwhelming and destabilizing. The physical signs include: rapidly beating heart, pressure or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, shakiness, light headedness and stomach discomfort. Psychological symptoms include: difficulty sleeping, feeling worried a lot of the time, difficulties switching off, poor concentration and a sense of being detached from our environment.
Avoiding situations as a way of preventing panicky feelings? Thousands of people have phobias of flying, travelling on trains, being in crowded places or being away from home. Phobias can greatly interfere with our work effectiveness as well as our enjoyment of life. Imagine the impact on your work ability if meetings or presentations had become associated with such high levels of anxiety that you dreaded attending them in case you became overwhelmed with anxiety.
One particularly severe form of anxiety – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – is triggered by being exposed to some unusual, terrifying experience. We have seen many people who have developed PTSD following road traffic accidents, train crashes, assaults and accidents at work. The disorder can produce very high levels of anxiety, nightmares of the event, and the tendency to replay the event mentally in vivid flashes of memory. PTSD can last for many years and requires skilled psychological help to reduce the anxiety and desensitise the mind to events which can trigger the vivid flashbacks.
A sudden, overwhelming surge of anxiety with symptoms of rapid heart rate, sweatiness and a fear that something awful is about to happen occurs in approximately 3% of the population. Panic attacks can easily lead to the development of Phobias.
Chronic fatigue is often caused by excess stress in people whose lives have lost a reasonable balance between demands and the time we take to restore our energy. Many people who suffer from chronic fatigue have been juggling too many demands at work and at home for too long, their energy resources have been declining and sometimes they come down with an illness such as a cold or flu which completely depletes them, leaving them unable to energise themselves for many months. Although they are utterly fatigued, they often have difficulty sleeping, they feel physically and mentally drained and they often require time off work to recover. They need skilled psychological help to learn how to regain their energy and rebalance their lives and their approach to work to prevent relapses.
The stress of life today can also take a toll on family life or relationships.
This is the most common psychological condition we see. Approximately one person in five will suffer symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. The average age of onset is only 30 and we see many people in their teens and early 20’s with clear depression symptoms.
Depression is not simply low mood – we all experience periods of sadness and times when our self-confidence drops. Depression can take over every aspect of our being - we can feel so low in mood that we feel life is hopeless, it can rob our life of meaning, it undermines our sense of who we are and sabotages our beliefs in ourselves. It creates physical symptoms – most commonly fatigue and feeling generally unwell, it interferes with our ability to concentrate. It can undermine our relationships by making us withdraw, become irritable and unresponsive.
Depression can easily be triggered by some event in life going against us or by major losses. It can be precipitated by fatigue or chronic stress. Many people suffer repeated episodes of depression over many years without recognising that they are experiencing a treatable psychological condition. This can often be due to a sense of guilt associated with the condition which prevents people from seeking help.
Substance abuse (alcohol and drugs)
An addiction is a complex disorder that not only affects the health of the individual but also impacts on their family. In many respects an addiction is a chronically persistent and unhealthy habit or behaviour. Addictions are not solely confined to alcohol or drugs but can include addictive relationships, gambling and inappropriate use of the internet. Treatment is conducted by a specialist psychologist who uses an approach that is oriented toward control and relapse prevention.
When a relationship goes wrong it can cause considerable unhappiness and can trigger depression in many people. It is often difficult for people to recognise that their relationships can deteriorate to the point where they need skilled help – often there are times when the couple get along reasonably well which reinforces a sense of optimism, but in reality those times of relative peace and togetherness are becoming less frequent and the levels of disagreement, anger and withdrawal are becoming more pronounced.
Many things can stop a couple from seeking help for a troubled relationship – sometimes a difficulty admitting that things have got to this point, sometimes a sense of helplessness, sometimes anger.
We see couples with relationship difficulties but we also see individuals whose relationships are in trouble to offer advice and support in the hope that they may be able to make some changes in how they relate to their partners which could change the way they relate as a couple.