Life can be stressful. How well we handle stress can have an enormous impact on our lives. When moderate stress is ignored for too long, or when stress accelerates and becomes overwhelming, it can produce dire consequences. Unmanageable stress can lead to physical and mental health issues, to damaged relationships and careers, resulting in subsequent individual psychotherapy, anger management treatment, couples and family therapy, or marriage counseling. Dealing successfully with stress is an important, teachable life skill (like coping with powerful emotions or managing important relationships).
As a licensed clinical psychologist and counselor in Westchester and midtown Manhattan, I am often asked to help people learn the best techniques for coping with anxiety and anger through stress management counseling. As a local resident, husband and father, I have experience with many of the same stressors and challenges as my clients when managing stress.
My personal experience combined with my psychological training and qualifications as a clinical psychologist, counselor, and executive coach allows me to help in a number of useful ways. For a particular individual, it's important to choose the best stress management treatment approach for the individual. The best stress reduction techniques are usually those that are a good fit for an individuals clinical needs and personal style. They may include cognitive behavioral therapy, client education, or even combined psychological and pharmacological approaches to managing stress in extreme situations. This solutions focused therapy approach for managing stress always includes developing specific techniques for each client, even in brief therapy, and life or executive coaching treatment formats.
This stress management page is oriented toward providing an overview of the issues, treatment options and stress management techniques I employ in my psychology practice as a stress management counselor and therapist in the New York City metropolitan area.
Stress, Stressors And Their Consequences
The stress response is a combination of physical and emotional reactions to an event that we experience as threatening and or extremely demanding. It is an instinctive reaction which prepares us physically and psychologically for extreme action in the interest of our survival. Our bodies go into a physiological of state emergency but quickly recover when the actual danger is past.
Compared with the dangers of the natural world in which we evolved as a species, this instinctive "fight or flight reaction" appears out of place our safer, civilized world. With the exception of traumatic events like the 9-11 terrorist attack, stress management issues in the New York, NJ, Westchester, and CT region are more likely triggered by real or imagined threats to our financial security (job loss) or our dignity (rejection) or by love or family concerns rather than by real threats to survival.
Our health and well being improve when we improve our stress management abilities through skills and techniques grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy and other psychological methods for stress reduction and control. These can be learned through stress and anger management counseling with an experienced psychotherapist, psychologist, coach or counselor.
Stress Management Counseling and Treatment Approaches
What is a Stressor and What Causes Stress?
A stressor is an internal or external stimulus or event that contributes to or triggers the stress response. As individuals, we react somewhat differently to the same stressor-- depending upon our personalities, the situation and the personal meaning that a particular stressor has for us. However, research has shown that, in general, some events are more stressful than others.
Common Major Stressors
- death of spouse
- sexual difficulties
- injury or illness
- getting married
- getting divorced
- marital reconciliation
- new family member
- illness in family
- death in family
- business changes
- loss of employment
Situations which may contribute to or trigger stress
- threats to social status
- overcrowding, isolation
- marriage/family issues
- legal, financial issues
- harmful relationships
- conflicting obligations
- life/work imbalance
- lack of power or control
- overwork, over scheduling
- excessive responsibility
- bullying, harassment
- lack of mental stimulation
- lack of emotional supports
- sleep deprivation
- no-win situations
Some negative feelings, attitudes or behaviors which can add to stress:
- pessimism, worry
- helplessness, passivity
- chronic anger, blaming
- perfectionist standards
- unrealistic expectations
- procrastination, indecision, doubt
- need to control
- compulsive behaviors
- competitive or chaotic lifestyle
Some common psychological fears which can contribute to stress:
- disapproval, rejection
- abandonment, betrayal
- risk, failure, humiliation
- being disappointed
- change, success
- loneliness, disconnection
- inadequacy, weakness
- disappointing others
- loss of choices, exits
- loss of self esteem
- loss of security, love
Accelerating social change is a powerful, often unnoticed, source of stress
Our world has become more stressful. Communication/information technology, job mobility and the power of global markets have complicated and accelerated the pace of economic and cultural change. The workplace, classroom, school yard and the courtship process have become much more competitive and stressful. Meanwhile, there has been a weakening of social supports and institutions which grounded the individual against the destabilizing effects of social stress.
There is much more pressure to adapt quickly, to work harder and faster. During periods of economic growth, there is more opportunity and choice, and more goods and services available to us. During downturns, the realities of unemployment, career change, and job searching are extremely stressful. Likewise, the prospect of unemployment is stressful, especially those who are working longer and harder to retain their jobs.
What are the Harmful Consequences of Stress?
Stress can put a severe strain upon our body, our mind, our relationships and our careers. Stress becomes an especially serious concern when we deny it or ignore it, or when we feel helpless to do anything to resolve it. Stress can deplete energy and focus. It can lead us to become irritable or abrupt with people, to engage in emotional outbursts, or even aggressive behavior.
Our relationships, families and job can be negatively impacted by stress reactions. People who experience unresolved stress are at risk for developing or exacerbating psychological conditions or stress-related medical disorders (See below). They may engage in self-destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse or addictions to gambling, pornography or other distracting activities.
There is a strong, two-way relationship between stress management problems and anger management issues. People who are acutely or chronically stressed are at risk for anger management problems.
Angry outbursts provide a degree of immediate relief from acute stress. People curse their bad luck, get angry at heir own mistakes or the other person's driving if it is too slow or too fast. Getting angry makes us feel better, for a little while.
Chronic stress reduces out emotional resiliency and increases the likelihood that we will become (chronically) angry. Conversely, chronic anger can wear us down and contribute to stress reactions. See the Anger Management Counseling section for help with anger, how to recognize and control it.
Stress May Result in Physiological Symptoms or Medical Conditions
Acute stress produces a long list of distressing symptoms, including muscular and gastrointestinal problems, which usually end when the stress producing situation passes. Treatment may not be necessary, particularly if the individual is not traumatized or overwhelmed.
Episodic stress is acute, recurrent stress which impacts people who may live disorganized or chaotic lives, or who repeatedly have overwhelming, contradictory, or excessive demands or expectations imposed upon by themselves or others.
Medical and psychological symptoms include headaches, hypertension, chest pain, heart disease, depression or anxiety disorders. Episodic stress reactions are often related to personality traits, coping style, cognitive approach or lifestyle choices which the sufferer may fail to noticed or may deny. The individual generally requires professional help.
Chronic stress is phase of physical and mental exhaustion which results from continual internal or external pressures. In this phase, the person's resistance to additional stress is weakened. Curiously, the sufferer may accept this severe level of stress as "normal." The individual may consciously give up hope of creating change in his or her life.
Chronic stress can result in serious and life-threatening consequences, including heart attack, stroke, major depression and suicide. He/she requires a range of treatment including medical, psychological and stress management interventions.
Some Anxiety Disorders Which Can Result from Stress Include
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a state in which the individual is excessively worried, full of fear, continually tense, having sleep difficulties or problems experiencing pleasure.
- Phobias are intense, fearful states that occur when a person is exposed to a certain type of situation like darkness, heights, blood, or specific social situations like public speaking.
- Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder refers to episodes of relatively brief but horribly intense anxiety which may include hyperventilation, chest pains, dizziness, sweating, numbness, or nausea as well as fears of dying, going crazy or losing control. Individuals may live in dread of the next panic attack.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder causes a person to worry excessively (obsessive thoughts) or perform hard to resist actions (compulsive behaviors) like hand washing, purging or checking the doors and windows.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a episodic, highly disturbing set of fear reactions following an emotionally upsetting or life-threatening event. Nightmares, hyper vigilance, phobias, detachment, emotional numbing, flashbacks, panic attacks and other disturbing symptoms may emerge months or years after the traumatic event.
Stress Management Best Self-Help Techniques
- Recognize the signs that you are becoming stressed. Monitor your degree of muscle tension, emotional upset, etc.
- Learn your particular stress response triggers. Prepare positive strategies to head off stress.
- Call a "time out." Set and maintain limits on how much stress you will tolerate before you disengage or take a break.
- Use relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, massage, imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Exercise regularly. It can be as effective as medication in resisting and reducing stress.
- Practice stress avoidance. Avoid unnecessary contact with stimuli, people and situations which are stressful, draining or toxic to you.
- Don't forget recreation. Do healthy things that make you feel good to help you to recharge and to recover from stress.
- Evaluate Your priorities in Life. Get your lifestyle in balance, and your mind will be much less vulnerable to stress.
- Practice useful attitudes and habits. Cultivate a spirit of self-management, rational optimism and constructive engagement with the world. Practice patience and self soothing.
- Enhance Your communication and negotiation skills. Other people, after all, are the most common external sources of stress and emotional comfort.
- Get emotional/social support. Talk to people who are good listeners and caring, trustworthy friends.
- Read more about it. Browse a bookstore or a library and pick up some books that appeal to you.
Stress Management Treatment Approaches
The goal of stress management counseling is to effectively reduce and control stress that exceeds the reach of self-help approaches. My particular solution oriented approach selects the best stress management techniques for my client and his/her particular situation. Here is a sample of treatment approaches which I draw upon.
Behavioral Therapy and Stress Management Counseling
- Identifying triggering stimuli. Learning alternative behaviors, competing behaviors, constructive disengagement.
- Relaxation Training: breathing exercises, guided imagery, systematic relaxation training. Learning how to monitor and reduce your physical state of tension and stress.
Cognitive Therapy and Stress Management Counseling
Restating a problem in concrete behavioral terms helps to reduce anxiety and produce tangible solutions. Learning to think in a more reasonable way, understanding the other persons point of view, considering alternative interpretations in an upsetting situation, questioning our unexamined, negative assumptions, expectations and values, and changing the negative self-talk that triggers or amplifies stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy is perhaps the best technique for managing stress overall.
Psycho-Educational Approach to Stress Management
Learning how our physiology and our survival instincts distort our reality and reactions can help us to respond more moderately and appropriately.
Problem-Solving Techniques for Stress Management
When we get into the habit of responding reactively to frustrating situations with negative thoughts and emotions, we may get stuck in our state of upset and forget about solving the real-world problem that triggered our stress. Identifying these reality based problems and learning rational strategies for dealing with them can help us move on.
Psychopharmacological Intervention in Stress Management
When stress is so severe or debilitating that one cannot be initially helped by good psychological treatment, then drug treatment can be a useful stepping stone in the therapy process. Stress-related issues may contribute to the severity of panic disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, or a major psychiatric disorder or medical condition, and medication is one of the components of treatment that should be considered.
When alcohol, tranquilizers, anti depressants or sleeping pills are used in excessive amounts, or for too long, or when they are a substitute for genuine self examination and life changing actions, they can add to one's stress management issues.
Individual Psychotherapy for Stress Management
When we frequently respond to stress with anxiety, fear, anger or depression, we may need to go deeper to understand our reactions. When stress reactions decrease our quality of life, psychotherapy can help us to make the kinds of serious changes we need in order to live in a happier and more effective way. When our emotional or interpersonal issues affect our vulnerability to stress, we need to addressed the relevant problem, as well as the immediate problem of stress, with a combination of psychotherapy and other stress management approaches.
The psychodynamic psychotherapy viewpoint emphasizes the importance of understanding and thereby gaining control of personal sources of anxiety which amplify the individual's particular response to stress. Blind spots, inner conflicts and personal demons provide life's stressors with opportunities to slowly take hold and grow beyond their actual seriousness.
The interpersonal approach to psychotherapy views the individual as trying achieve a secure sense of self and get a host of complex needs met while embedded in a world of emotionally necessary, desirable and threatening people. Negative experiences can create anxiety, confusion or distortions in our sense of security, self concept or world view and make us more vulnerable to stress. We deal with stress (and life) more effectively when we understand ourselves, and how we connect with others, and how others respond to us.
Existential and humanistic psychotherapy tends to focus on the importance of connectedness, creativity/productivity, personal identity, meaning and purpose. These core values make us more resilient in the face of stress. We get more stress resistant when we pursue personally meaningful goals, activities and human connections rather than gaudy distractions, quick fixes or hollow rewards.
Positive psychology stresses the usefulness of rational optimism, self determination and constructive engagement for advancing in the face of adversity, disadvantage and even disability. It is an especially useful approach when dealing with trauma, personal loss and disaster.
Parent Counseling and Family Therapy
Family members can bring their frustrations home and create stress for each other. Stress is contagious; it easily passes from one family member to the next, gaining in intensity until the entire family is upset. Eventually, one family member or issue can become the central focus of family upset even when everyone may have some part in the cycle of stress. Parents are often unaware, unprepared or too stressed themselves to deal with some of the complex issues which emerge in today's family life.
Parent counseling (family counseling) is a first approach to consider when addressing problems of stress in the family. Sometimes, parents need brief child and family counseling to understand and reduce the level of stress in the home, to help make it a safer place for family members to relax and provide support each other.
Family, couples and marital therapy can be used to help conflicted, disengaged or acting-out family members to stop stressing each other, to achieve mutual understanding and to learn to work together as a team.
Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy
Individual psychotherapy for children can be helpful when kids are having difficulty identifying their feelings and the sources of their upset and stress. The primarily focus is on understanding the child's reactions from their point of view --in order to help the parents to better address their child's needs.
Individual psychotherapy for adolescents and teens can be especially useful when he or she is at an impasse with family members or others. Psychotherapy can help young people to take responsibility for addressing stressful issues in a more effective way.
Find Stress Management Counseling in New York City and White Plains, NY
I've been a psychotherapist, counselor, and coach to individual clients, couples and whole families, helping them learn to better manage stress through my practical, flexible approach to stress counseling and anger management therapy. I have developed this solutions based approach to stress management counseling over the course of 25 years, as a licensed clinical psychologist in full time clinical practice.
Anger Management Groups and Classes Now Forming
In White Plains, NY I offer a group anger management program consisting of a serious of group anger management classes in a group workshop.
I am very familiar with the stresses of living and growing into adulthood in an urban area. I have helped many people from my NYC psychology practice. It is located in midtown Manhattan at Park Avenue and 38th Street, near Grand Central station and convenient to Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. I am also very familiar with the issues of creating a family in the suburbs. You can easily find my Westchester psychotherapy practice in White Plains, NY off I-287, convenient to Rockland County, northern New Jersey and Greenwich, CT.
Please explore this website or call me for more information about counseling, executive coaching, life coaching or to find out how I can help you to achieve results reducing anxiety, tension, and physical symptoms of stress.