“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” — Lou Holtz

While looking at the stats, one thing is certain — stress levels in the United States are becoming a significant public health crisis.

As reported by the American Psychological Association, the majority of Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with nearly half (44 percent) stating that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. This can lead to the development of stress-related disorders, ranging from generalized anxiety to adjustment disorder, and in more severe cases, PTSD.

What is Stress?

The “definition” of stress takes on different meanings for different people. In its simplest form, stress is often referred to as physical, emotional, or mental strain that results in some level of distress. However, not all stress is bad. There is healthy stress, known as eustress, which when properly managed, can lead to enhanced productivity and/or positive results, such as getting a promotion or having a baby.

While focusing on negative stress, you must first understand the role of your “fight or flight” system. This is what’s known as acute stress, as your body essentially prepares to “defend” itself. In response, stress hormones are released, causing your muscles to get ready for action, as your heart rate increases and your breathing becomes more rapid. Once threatening stimuli is eliminated, your body will return to normal.

It is when this response continues to fire, day after day, that serious health complications can arise. This is referred to as chronic stress, which can lead to symptoms such as insomnia, depression, headaches, anxiety, and irritability — not to mention the toll it takes on your central nervous system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, and immune function.

Although stress is linked to a wide range of anxiety-related conditions, some are more severe than others, particularly those that develop following trauma. If ongoing stress currently has a negative impact on your everyday life, know that help is available. Lasting recovery requires you to take action, but first, you must identify problematic stress in order to effectively manage it.

Acute Stress Disorder vs PTSD

Sadly, trauma is common. In the United States, approximately 70 percent of people have experienced some type of traumatic event. That equates to around 223.4 million people. Since trauma is a risk factor for nearly all substance use disorders and behavioral health conditions, it’s imperative that you learn to identify symptoms of prolonged stress, as well as symptoms of diminishing mental health.

If you or a loved one have witnessed a traumatic event or series of events, it’s important to remain aware of acute stress disorder (ASD), as well as PTSD — both of which can wreak havoc on your mental health and overall quality of life. While both ASD and PTSD develop following trauma, here is how these conditions differ:

  • Acute stress disorder (ASD) — Although the symptoms of ASD overlap with PTSD, ASD occurs in the first month following a traumatic event, with symptoms lasting for three days or more. Your condition would not be diagnosed as PTSD until symptoms have lasted for one month and beyond. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of people with ASD will develop PTSD six months later.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — PTSD is characterized by symptoms of distress later on, as you struggle to cope with the aftermath of trauma. The symptoms will be similar to ASD and as discussed, will need to last at least a month in order to be diagnosed. If not treated, this condition can last a long time, severely disrupting the lives of those impacted.

4 Ways to Identify Stress

As discussed, stress is rather subjective in terms of how it makes you feel. That is why you must understand your personal triggers. Whether you are experiencing financial worries, have recently gone through a divorce, or have lost a loved one, remaining aware of how you’re coping is imperative in terms of your current and future health.

If you’re experiencing chronic stress, you may develop a range of physical, behavioral, emotional, and even cognitive symptoms. Here are four ways to identify problematic stress levels. The goal here is to take action as soon as possible.

  1. Feelings of stress are becoming overwhelming, significantly impacting your everyday life. Whether you have become more emotional, lack energy, are using drugs and alcohol to cope, or simply feel on edge, be mindful of how you feel so that you can address signs of distress.
  2. Physical symptoms have developed in response to stress, including back pain, tension headaches, neck pain, gastrointestinal issues, palpitations, etc.
  3. Your mood and behavior have changed. Those close to you may have commented on your current emotional state and/or behaviors. This may be based on irrational fears, the misuse of substances, feelings of excessive anxiety, a lack of sleep, etc.
  4. You have withdrawn from those you love, feeling more and more helpless. In some cases, people feel guilty but they do not know why. In other cases, clients have little to no energy and simply end up feeling hopeless. If you are pulling away due to increased stress levels, which is impairing your ability to take care of yourself in a healthy manner, it’s time to take action.

If you are concerned about the potential symptoms of PTSD, remain mindful of the following:

  • PTSD may begin as ASD. If you are at risk for developing PTSD, it’s important to know the symptoms and warning signs. If you are experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, negative thoughts, numbing emotions, irritability, and feelings of avoidance, acknowledge how you’re feeling and ask someone for help as soon as possible.
  • The last thing you want to do is ignore these warning signs, as they may escalate, potentially encouraging other conditions and illnesses to develop across time. Although ASD will not necessarily develop into PTSD, it most certainly can when early intervention and treatment are not taken seriously.

How to Best Manage Stress

How to best manage stress will depend on your personal circumstance. If you are currently dealing with chronic stress and generalized anxiety, there are a number of steps you can take in terms of your current lifestyle. Some of the most common interventions that you can begin to implement today include exercise, a balanced diet, meditation, journaling, and positive self-talk.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms of ASD, PTSD, or another concerning mental health condition, there is help available. Sadly, these conditions are also often accompanied by a substance abuse disorder, which can make recovery even more challenging. Whether you are struggling with PTSD, have developed a panic disorder, or are self-medicating to numb the trauma you have experienced, professional help is available.

Although you will receive an individualized treatment plan based on your unique needs, anyone diagnosed with stress or anxiety-related conditions will benefit from stress tolerance. This strategy is particularly effective among those who lack the coping skills required to deal with daily stressors in a healthy manner. For example, someone who is abusing alcohol in order to dull symptoms of anxiety would benefit from stress tolerance.

The goal here is to allow yourself to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. During treatment, you will work with your therapist to become the best version of yourself. You deserve a life that is free from the overwhelming symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety, and at Transformations, we can help you do just that.

Mental Health Assessment

When you first arrive at Transformations Treatment Center, whether you are dealing with symptoms of alcohol abuse, PTSD, or both, our main priority is to better understand what you personally need. Our individualized, holistic approach will encourage greater success long-term. We will discuss your symptoms and the most imminent concerns so that you can begin your road to recovery.

In some cases, medical detox may be required before the psychological and emotional healing process can begin. That is because many clients seeking treatment for stress-related disorders have developed poor coping mechanisms involving substances of abuse. This is particularly the case among those who have experienced trauma. Compared with people who do not suffer from PTSD, people with PTSD are two to four times more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. The risk is even higher in regard to drug abuse and dependence.

Once your body and mind are ready to begin therapy, you will be able to work through your trauma in an environment that is safe and supportive. Your treatment plan may involve prolonged exposure therapy, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of therapy options.

In addition, we offer specialty services that allow our clients to truly transform into the individuals they strive to be. We offer everything from Neurotherapy to holistic mind-body services, ensuring that the best possible treatment is available for you, based on your personal needs and goals.

If stress has been taking a significant toll on your well-being and has since developed into more troublesome symptoms, at Transformation, we’re here to help. Your new life is waiting — all you need to do is call.

Take the next step and contact us today!