Do you suffer from stress? These are the signs to look out for: nail biting, knee jumping, and face rubbing.

Sean’s experience highlights a crucial point: Stress affects everyone, but how we handle it varies greatly. Dr. Sreekumar, a Dubai-based psychiatrist with 25 years of experience, explains that while some handle stress like experienced surfers, others allow themselves to be swept beneath the waves.

Signs of stress: more than just restlessness

Beyond the obvious restlessness, stress can manifest itself in countless ways. Restlessness, lack of concentration, avoiding problems instead of solving them, and even seemingly minor things like scratching your fingertips can be hidden signs of stress. Dr. Sreekumar, who works for Mediclinic, emphasizes that chronic or excessive stress can have dire consequences for physical and mental health.

From “going crazy” to finding calm: a patient’s journey

Dr Layth Sahib, another Dubai psychiatrist working for Mediclinic, came across a patient who perfectly illustrates the extreme side of stress. This man, newly promoted, walked into Dr. Sahib’s clinic asking if he was “going crazy.” He was plagued by sleepless nights, crippling indecision, and emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. He was not aware of the psychiatric evaluations, but Dr. Layth diagnosed the source of his distress: extreme stress. With time and proper treatment, the patient returned to calm.

Fight, flight or freeze: our body’s response to stress

Dr. Sreekumar explains that these are the knee-jerk reactions we face when we feel threatened. Whether we confront, flee, or freeze, the goal is to regain a state of calm. But the effectiveness with which we achieve this and the impact on our mind and body varies greatly from person to person.

Why do some thrive under pressure while others crumble?

This difference arises from a complex interplay of factors, explains Dr. Sreekumar. At the individual level, genetics, brain function, and personality traits all play a role. Socially, family, culture, economic realities, and even political systems influence our responses to stress.

From the teacher’s lateness to total overwhelm

Counselor and cognitive behavioral therapist Carolyne Yaffe encountered a teacher whose stress came from seemingly insignificant things. Being two minutes late caused anxiety for this mother of two, and work pressures amplified her burden. Recognizing these symptoms and seeking help are crucial steps in managing stress.

Taking control: a multifaceted approach

Carolyne, who works for Medcare Medical Center Dubai, emphasizes that tackling stress requires a multi-pronged approach. The combination of lifestyle changes, therapeutic interventions and a support network can empower people to cope and improve their overall well-being.

Remember, stress is multifaceted and addressing both its psychological and physical aspects is key to achieving comprehensive well-being.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used, evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that aims to help people identify and modify dysfunctional patterns of thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Developed by Aaron T Beck in the 1960s, CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings and actions are interconnected and that changing negative thought patterns can lead to positive changes in emotions and behavior.

Key principles of CBT include:

Cognitive restructuring: CBT focuses on cognitive distortions or negative thinking patterns that contribute to emotional distress. Therapy helps people identify and challenge these distorted thoughts, replacing them with more balanced and realistic ones.

Behavioral activation: CBT incorporates behavioral techniques to address patterns of avoidance, procrastination, or other problematic behaviors. Patients work with the therapist to set specific, achievable goals and engage in activities that give them a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

Exposure therapy: This component is often used to address anxiety disorders and phobias. Individuals gradually confront feared situations or objects in a controlled and supportive environment, which helps them overcome irrational fears.

Problem resolution: CBT equips people with effective problem-solving skills. It encourages a structured approach to identifying problems, generating potential solutions, and implementing them, fostering a sense of mastery and control.

Homework Assignments: CBT often includes homework between sessions to practice and reinforce skills learned in therapy. These tasks improve the generalization of new coping strategies to real-life situations.

Collaborative and goal-oriented: CBT is a collaborative process between the therapist and the individual seeking help. Therapy is typically time-limited and goal-oriented, focusing on providing practical tools and strategies to manage current challenges.

Understanding stress: causes, signs, diagnosis and treatment

Causes of stress

Signs of stress:

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • Digestive problems (eg, stomach pain, nausea)

Emotional symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Humor changes
  • feel overwhelmed

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficult to focus
  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts
  • Negative self-talk

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Social retreat
  • Increased substance use (e.g., alcohol, drugs)
  • Delay
  • Concern

Stress diagnosis:

Diagnosing stress involves evaluating the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and identifying potential stressors. There is no specific medical test for stress, but healthcare professionals can use standardized questionnaires and interviews to assess the severity of symptoms. It is essential to rule out other medical conditions that may mimic the symptoms of stress.

Stress treatment:

Exercise: Regular physical activity reduces stress hormones and promotes the release of endorphins.

Healthy diet: Nutrient-rich foods contribute to overall well-being and can have a positive impact on mood.

Adequate sleep: Establishing a consistent sleep routine is crucial to managing stress.

Counseling and Psychotherapy:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps people identify and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Techniques such as meditation and deep breathing promote present moment awareness and reduce stress.

Medications for stress:

Antidepressants and Anxiolytics: In cases of severe stress or stress-related disorders, medications may be prescribed to relieve symptoms.

Stress management techniques:

Relaxation techniques: Practices such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can promote relaxation.

Time management: Learning to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively can reduce feelings of overwhelm.

Social support:

Maintaining strong social connections and seeking support from friends, family, or support groups is vital to managing stress.

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