Taking Stress Seriously

How stressed are you? How seriously are you taking it?

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Stress is the latest crisis to hit big banks and finance firms in the City. According to newspaper reports, top City bosses are taking time out for exhaustion and stress. Some of the biggest companies are taking stress-related problems so seriously that they are hiring in-house counselling services to give help and support to their overworked and overwrought staff.

Mental health problems that stress can trigger are no longer seen as a stigma in the high-powered, male-dominated, big earning business world.

One of the most common symptoms of stress is anxiety. Anxiety is a normal emotion which most of us feel at times of change and uncertainty, such as when we’re moving house, changing jobs, starting a new relationship or suffering a bereavement. Even when we are happy and excited about change in our lives we can still feel anxious because we are facing something different and unfamiliar. Our usual patterns of everyday living are disturbed and we don’t feel as in control.

Anxiety turns into a problem when it becomes a feeling that is so frequent and overwhelming that it takes you over and stops you thinking of anything else. The same worries go constantly round and round in your head. Just getting out of bed in the morning can grip you with a fear that you experience physically, like knots in your stomach or wanting to throw up. Anxiety can get so extreme that it can lead to panic attacks where it becomes difficult to breathe and your heart beats so fast it feels like having a heart attack.

These extreme feelings that can be triggered by ordinary, everyday events or internally by fears you may not be fully aware of.

This level of anxiety can be caused by overwork and by having too high expectations of yourself so you always fall short. It can be driven by deeper feelings, such as fear of failure, of being humiliated, facing loss or living with conflict and uncertainty. Anxiety is a feeling that can block off other emotions so you might feel anxious rather than allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, angry or sad.

Therapists find that people who find it difficult to manage their feelings other than by burying them or expressing them in extreme ways are prone to experiencing high anxiety states. This may be because your family has always found it difficult or frightening to express emotions or expresses them in explosions of rage or in punishing walls of silence. You may have experienced traumas such as loss which have left you feeling vulnerable and insecure, so life seems full of uncertainty and threat.

There are many ways people deal with anxiety caused by stress, such as yoga, relaxation techniques and advice in self-help books.

Another way is seeking counselling or therapy, which can be helpful if you experience frequent bouts of anxiety. It can give you the space in which you can build up your confidence and feel more in control of your life. With the help of an experienced therapist you can gain more understanding of what is causing these frightening feelings and in doing that find that they can become much less extreme.

December 2013