Stress is a common experience that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, statistics show that it's become a global epidemic, with a significant portion of the population experiencing its negative consequences. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

Dubai: While everyone handles stress differently, understanding how it manifests can be key to managing it effectively. And yes, nail-biting, knee-bouncing, and face-rubbing can indeed be indicators of stress, but they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Sean's story: A paralyzing presentation

Take Sean, a 24-year-old IT professional, for example. As the meeting began, he gnawed on his fingernails, his anxiety rising with each glance at the audience. When it was his turn to present, his mind went blank. Words failed him, leaving him staring into space, defeated. This wasn't like Sean at all. Usually, his nervous habits helped him cope, even if he wasn't a star presenter. But this time, the stress overwhelmed him.

Stress: A universal, yet uniquely experienced foe

Sean's experience highlights a crucial point: stress affects everyone, but how we manage it varies greatly. Dr Sreekumar, a Dubai-based psychiatrist with 25 years of experience, explains that while some handle stress like seasoned surfers, others get pulled under the waves.

Stress signals: More than just fidgeting

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

From "Going Crazy" to finding calm: A patient's journey

Dr Layth Sahib, another Dubai psychiatrist working for Mediclinic, encountered a patient who perfectly illustrates the extreme side of stress. This man, recently promoted, walked into Dr Sahib's clinic asking if he was "going crazy." Sleepless nights, crippling indecisiveness, and emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion plagued him. He was unaware of psychiatric evaluations, but Dr Layth diagnosed the source of his distress: extreme stress. With time and proper treatment, the patient found his way back to calm.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze: Our body's stress response

Dr Sreekumar explains that these are the instinctive reactions we face when threatened. Whether we confront, flee, or freeze, the goal is to regain a state of calm. But how effectively 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 stems from a complex interplay of factors, Dr Sreekumar elaborates. On an individual level, genetics, brain function, and personality traits all play a role. Socially, family, culture, economic realities, and even political systems influence our stress responses.

From teacher's tardiness to total overwhelm

Counsellor and Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Carolyne Yaffe encountered a teacher whose stress stemmed from seemingly insignificant things. Being two minutes late triggered anxiety in this mother of two, her work pressures amplifying the 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. Combining lifestyle changes, therapeutic interventions, and a supportive network can empower individuals 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.

Stress stats

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used and evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach that aims to help individuals identify and modify dysfunctional thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors. Developed by Aaron T Beck in the 1960s, CBT is grounded in 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 targets cognitive distortions or negative thought patterns that contribute to emotional distress. The therapy helps individuals 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 bring 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, helping them overcome irrational fears.

Problem-Solving: CBT equips individuals 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 between-session assignments to practice and reinforce skills learned in therapy. These assignments enhance 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. The therapy is typically time-limited and goal-oriented, with a focus on providing practical tools and strategies for managing current challenges.

Understanding Stress: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Causes of stress

Signs of Stress:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Digestive issues (e.g., stomach pain, nausea)

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts
  • Negative self-talk

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased use of substances (e.g., alcohol, drugs)
  • Procrastination
  • Restlessness

Diagnosis of Stress:

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

Treatment of Stress:

Lifestyle Modifications:

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 positively impact mood.

Adequate Sleep: Establishing a consistent sleep routine is crucial for stress management.

Counseling and Psychotherapy:

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

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Techniques like meditation and deep breathing foster present-moment awareness, reducing stress.

Medications for stress:

Antidepressants and Anxiolytics: In cases of severe stress or stress-related disorders, medication may be prescribed to alleviate 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 for managing stress.