Stress is so widespread, it almost fits the category of an epidemic. It affects everybody, but how much and how long stress affects any given person varies. A major variation is the stimuli, specific stressors, that can set each person off. Understanding these stressors can help distance us from unnecessary unease. In order to fully grasp stress's effect on our mind and body, we must look at it from the medical perspective.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as "the brain's response to any demand." In other terms, whatever situation signals the brain's "fight or flight" response. In short, think of your brain as your body's protector and defender. As such, it produces cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline that prepare you to either face a situation head-on or duck for cover.
More than help you react to difficulty, this neurological reaction also increases your heart rate, level of alertness, and muscle tension. Although handy in a life or death situation, most of the time this increase in body awareness had detrimental effects on our overall well-being.
When a person feels the effects of stress, their breathing becomes more rapid, their blood pressure rises, and their digestive system goes on pause. More than this, it becomes impossible to sleep under heightened alert, so many who are overloaded with stress also battle insomnia. Most importantly of all, stress reduces our body's immune system. This makes it harder to fight off more common ailments, and also heightens any preexisting diseases and conditions.
At Hudson County Care and Counseling, the team of counselors led by director Pamela Pater-Ennis and her protégé Emily S. Krause set out different stress coping techniques for each patient. Their practice, with offices in Hoboken and Englewood, is based around four key tenets: 1) being multicultural and 2) multilingual, 3) focusing on the spiritual and religious aspects of healing, and 4) a strong tradition of community outreach.
In New Jersey, the first two elements are critical. Pater-Ennis described the Hoboken corner where most of their counseling is done as a microcosm of the entire world where people of all backgrounds and economic plateaus live side-by-side. As such, the practice also employs psychotherapist Mario H. Irigoyen, who offers his services in both English and Spanish, and social worker and addiction counselor Steven Chen, whose fluency in English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese gives the center maximum outreach.
The spiritual element is extremely important towards mental health recovery. Pater-Ennis explained that this is evident by the religious angle of the 12 Step Program. Herself an ordained minister, her and Krause made the important distinction that one religion doesn't hold prevalence over another for their counseling. The goal is for the patient to reconnect with the Higher Power in whatever angle is most comfortable for them.
Even though the center fulfills their fourth tenet win their affiliation with the St. Matthew's Trinity Lutheran Church and the Lunch Time Ministry that feeds more than 100 people every day, Pater-Ennis and Krause also explain that the meditative and breathing exercises they implement are of Eastern origin. The goal is to help patients find their own peace with things in life that are ambiguous and more difficult to grasp. They summarized this viewpoint by highlighting the importance of knowing the difference between what we have control over and what we don't. The real healing comes when we accept situations that sit out of our hands and don't let them affect us.
Easier said than done. Aside from the advice mentioned above, the National Institute of Mental Health hammers out the importance of stetting specific, obtainable goals and keeping track of all we accomplished throughout the day. It's critical that we don't dwell on problems for too long. Sleeping enough, eating healthy, and implementing regular exercise are also important. As such, also having hobbies and passions that help unwind our mind can foster creativity and reduce life's burden. Krause explained that boredom is healthy, as it helps us relax and take things as they come.