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I’ve been really stressed out lately, and it has started to affect my personal life. I’ve been a bit too snappy with friends and family, and I’ve gotten emotional over seemingly unimportant issues. I’ve even cried in front of people over silly matters.
Recently, one of my friends suggested that I try therapy. I’m not exactly opposed to it, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be useful for me. I don’t have any mental health issues, or at least I don’t think I do. Experts, can you give me any insight into this?
We’re sorry to hear that you’re so stressed out. When we talk about stress, we’re talking less about the “causes” of stress and more about the ways in which our bodies and minds react to those things. Stress reactions include quicker breathing, tightening muscles, an elevated heart rate, and rising blood pressure.
There are evolutionary reasons that we experience stress, but stress isn’t very helpful or healthy in most parts of our modern lives. In fact, high levels of stress can hurt your health and even shorten your life. And, unfortunately, you’re not the only person experiencing high levels of stress. The fact of the matter is, stress is a major problem in the United States and beyond.
You say that you don’t have any mental health issues that you know of, but, many people might be surprised to learn that that’s not the case. Stress in itself is a mental health issue. While we often think of our mental health as being a black-and-white concept, it would be more accurate and more helpful to view things in shades of gray. We can consider ourselves perfectly sane while recognizing that stress is a problem in our lives. In much the same way that we can understand that a poor diet is bad for us even if we are not physically injured or ill.
Understanding the subtleties and the big picture of mental health leads us to our next conclusion: that therapy is not just for people who have very serious mental health issues. Just as we visit our doctors regularly to check in on our physical health, we should pay frequent visits to mental health professionals to check in on our mental health.
Visiting a therapist regularly will help you stay on top of your mental health concerns. And a good therapist will help you develop techniques and strategies for dealing with the excessive stress in your life right now. We’re not just talking about organizational strategies or time management tricks, but rather ways to actually address your stress, begin to adjust how you react to it, and work with your mind to better face tight deadlines and other pressing stressful issues.
It’s also worth noting that none of us are necessarily qualified to diagnose our own mental health issues. However unlikely it may be, it is possible that you do have a larger mental health concern that you should address. Surprisingly large percentages of Americans suffer from depression and anxiety, and not all of them are aware that they have a mental health condition. Others may be unsure of how serious their issues actually are. Speaking with a therapist will help you spot and address any issues in your life other than (or related to) your stress issues.
Finally, you should consider the fact that you don’t know what your own future holds. We should all try to eat right and exercise because that will give us the best chance at a healthy life that is as free as possible from injury and illness. In the same way, being proactive about your mental health now will give you the best possible toolkit for addressing stresses and emergencies that may arrive in the future. Why wait until you really “need” therapy?
We recommend that you follow your friend’s advice and seek out a therapist. A good therapist can help you address your current issues, spot any other ones, and prepare for any emotional or psychological stresses that might arise in the future.