NORTH FULTON, Ga. — For many people as they age, stress can become almost unavoidable. But not all stress is “bad,” and according to local therapists, learning the difference and how to manage stress can save people a lot of frustrations.
“Stress has a bad reputation as something we want to get rid of or reduce,” said Dr. Jeannine Jannot, student and parent coach at Peachtree Psychology in Roswell. “The perfect life would be a stress-free life. We really need to reframe that thinking and understand it is vitally important.”
According to Jannot, the most common image of stress is of the fight-or-flight response, which can be damaging if left unchecked.
During such a response, the body’s systems that “aren’t really necessary for our survival at that moment, like our immune or digestive system, are shut down,” Jannot said.
Shutting down those systems allows the body to get to safety or protect itself, but getting stuck in that state can have harmful effects on people. Constantly suppressing the immune system, for example, can make people vulnerable to frequent colds or infections.
Jannot, who also teaches as an adjunct instructor of psychology at Georgia State University’s Alpharetta campus, said she sees this all the time with students around finals time. Many of them start falling ill around periods of high stress.
Stress, however, isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.
“It’s like a scale,” said licensed associate professional counselor Julia Harris, M.S., of Summit Counseling Center. “Some stress or anxiety is good because it motivates us to get stuff done. People who never experience any stress often don’t accomplish much.”
A healthy stress response, for example, can enhance performance. Jannot identified this response as the challenge response, which might kick in when someone is preparing to present a proposal or they are concentrating in an interview.
“Their body is actually using the stress to help them perform,” Jannot said. “If they had a fight-or-flight response in that situation, they would likely choke.”
She also recognized the positive tend-and-befriend response that helps people bond and seek out help during tough times. That method of finding meaning and connection during a terrible situation is a part of what Jannot calls “stress resilience.”
“It actually makes your brain better at responding to stress in the future,” Jannot said. “The chemicals released during those kinds of stress responses kind of inoculate the brain against stress.”
This is incredibly useful when stressful situations can’t be avoided, Jannot said.
Common sources of stress for adults include work, productivity, self-worth, relationships, family and health.
One trend in stress that Summit Counseling Center licensed professional counselor Carleen Newsome, M.S. has seen growing with adults in particular is tied to their children’s success. Many parents have been feeling an increasing pressure to be a good parent and for a lot of people, that means having a successful child. A child’s failure, then, is seen as a failure in parenting.
These kinds of stressors often overlap with what people consider the most important to them, Jannot said.
Stress, then, can be thought of as a response to protect.
“It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘Pay attention – this is something important to you. I’m giving you the energy to respond to this,’ ” Jannot said. “If you reframe it that way, you can utilize that stress and your body will respond in a much healthier manner.
“To be stressed is to be human. We can’t really ever completely get rid of stress. Fighting it is sort of a useless battle, and I think that’s why we see so many problems surrounding it.”