Employee Mental Health

How Do I Know When It’s More Than Stress?

Feb 6, 2024

Everyone has stress; it’s a natural part of life. Over the past few years or so, COVID-19, the election, violence and unrest in the nation have taken every-day stress to a whole ‘nother level. If you’re wondering why it seems like the world is a little more on edge, or why you personally are feeling not on top of your game, here’s something to keep in mind: we are all grieving.

Grieving what?

Our ideas about what can cause feelings of loss or grief are often pretty narrow. They include loss of a loved one, a relationship, pet or possession. Loss and the challenges that come with it actually can encompass much more than that. The pandemic and other conditions have caused huge changes in our lives. In other words, we have “lost” much of what used to be part of our normal world. Often our emotional reaction to one big life change is the same as it is to many small changes. You may not think that “grief” is an appropriate way to describe how you feel about your missed gym time or cancelled vacation, but these seemingly small inconveniences, combined with the thousand other ways life has been abnormal lately, can deal a serious shock to our system.

We all have our go-to sources for comfort and recharging when faced with stressful situations: friends, recreation, relaxation, entertainment, etc. Unfortunately, these strategies are sometimes insufficient — or in the case of 2020–21, unavailable — to pull us out of a funk. Some stressors hit us hard enough to interfere with our ability to function well at home, work and relationships. It turns out this is a thing in the mental health world, and it’s referred to as Adjustment Disorder or Stress Response Syndrome.

What does Adjustment Disorder look like?

Don’t let words like “disorder” throw you off. Adjustment Disorder simply describes what many of us are going through right now as a result of recent events. Signs of this condition vary from person to person, but they can include:

Depression-related symptoms:

  • Low mood
  • More tearfulness
  • Decreased motivation
  • Feelings of hopeless

Anxiety-related symptoms:

  • More nervousness
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Physical symptoms — jitteriness/shaking, increased heart rate, nausea
  • Withdrawal or isolation from people and social activities

Behavior-related symptoms:

  • Poor work/school performance
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Changes to sleep and appetite
  • Non typical behavior(s) such as substance use.

Although they may look similar, Adjustment Disorder is different than general anxiety and depression in that those conditions usually last for a longer period of time and are not in direct response to a particular stressor or stressors. Technically, Adjustment Disorder symptoms develop as a reaction to one or more known stressors within 3 months of the stressors beginning and often subside within 6 months of the resolution or disappearance of the identified stressors.

Knowing that symptoms won’t last forever may bring some comfort, but it might not make dealing with things today any easier. If this is your situation, it’s important to know that you do not have to face it alone. Telehealth therapy, through Tava Health, can be an effective way to get the additional support you need during a difficult time. Talking with a therapist can help you think through what is currently going on and learn effective strategies to use when future challenges come.

What can I do today?

As you are considering whether to engage in therapy, you can take some immediate steps that can help you begin to feel better. Below are a few examples of things you can try:

  1. Space and Grace — Your emotions (even the uncomfortable ones) actually contain important information, but we sometimes get in the habit of snuffing them out. When strong emotions come up, try giving them quiet attention. Recognize the thoughts and feelings you have without judgment or commentary.
  2. Naming It — Put words to your feelings. It may sound too easy, but the practice of naming an emotion can begin to bring clarity and relief to what you are feeling. It can also bring more awareness to what is going on in your mind and body.
  3. Calm — Allow yourself some downtime in your mind and body every day, even if it’s for brief moments. Remind yourself digitally or otherwise to occasionally ground yourself with relaxation techniques, such as taking a few slow deep breaths, looking up and observing your surroundings, repeating a positive thought about yourself or remembering something that you’re grateful for.
  4. Sleep — Deep regular sleep is crucial for good mental health. If your sleep patterns have been disrupted, work towards regaining your normal sleep schedule.
  5. Nutrition — If you feel a loss of appetite, try to eat small, health-conscious meals at regular times, whether or not you feel hungry. If you are eating more than usual, bring your awareness to this without judgement. Mindful eating habits can help you recognize when you feel full, or when you’re actually more snacky than hungry.
  6. Apps — There are many apps with free content that can assist with the above suggestions. Several popular apps are Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace and Shine.

What if it is more than stress?

If you think you may be singing the Adjustment Disorder blues, don’t be discouraged. Keep in mind that a relatively quick recovery from an Adjustment Disorder is possible, especially with the added support, care, and guidance from a trained therapist. Please reach out to your HR department or hello@tavahealth.com if you have any questions about getting started with Tava.

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