By Belinda Haverdill, MA, LPC
Many adults are saying “I’m feeling so overwhelmed” or “I’m so stressed”. They are feeling agitated, anxious, and depressed. Others may report having difficulty focusing and find themselves shutting down emotionally and mentally. Not only is stress affecting our mental well being, our physical health is also at stake. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association (2005), more than one-third of Americans say they have had an illness that was primarily caused by stress. Two-thirds of all office visits to family physicians are due to stress-related symptoms (American Academy of Family Physicians).
There is a direct link between our mind and our body when a stressful situation arises. When we perceive a stressor, our limbic system, which is located in the brain, sends out a message to release hormones which stimulates physical arousal. Our heart begins to beat faster, our larger muscle groups begin to contract, our blood pressure increases and fuel for energy is pumped into our bodies. The body prepares for fight, flight or freeze. Our body is responding as if we are in the path of a freight train which is about to hit us at any moment and death is immanent. In reality, the situation is often very innocuous such as someone in front of us is not moving fast enough through the intersection.
In order to achieve physical and emotional well being, the effects of stress on our lives must be addressed. Responses to stress such as exercise, journaling and deep breathing are beneficial for the short term. But for long lasting change, each person needs to look within to discover what is activating such physical responses. There is any number of internal influences which affects our stress level, often without our being aware. It is not so much what is going on around us, but rather how we are thinking and feeling about any given situation. The effects of our past as well as our hopes and fears for the future also impact our stress responses.
I recommend scheduling some time every day to reflect upon your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Each contributes to how we view the world. Notice and acknowledge what you experience. These are all wonderful parts of yourself just trying to get your attention. These messengers often can relax once accepted. Listening with curiosity and compassion will lead to well being.
Belinda Haverdill is a Licensed Professional Counselor with more than 15 years in practice. With a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling, it is Belinda’s experience and approach to counseling and guidance that sets her apart in the field. A member of the American Counseling Association and Internal Family Systems Association, she is also a Neuromuscular Integrative Action (NIA) White Belt Instructor. Belinda has published numerous articles on wellness, self-discovery, relationships, coping, and trauma.