Dr Eddie Murphy
On the causes of distress
There are many different ways that we can feel uncomfortable…we can be hot, cold, tired, in pain, hungry or unwell. But there is also emotional discomfort or distress. We may not like it, but experiencing uncomfortable emotions is a natural part of life. However, there is a difference between disliking unpleasant emotions and experiencing unpleasant emotions as unbearable and needing to get rid of them. Being intolerant of emotional discomfort can interfere with living a fulfilling life and can worsen any emotional discomfort we might be experiencing. Think of a time when you felt sadness. Maybe it was after losing a loved one or losing your job. How did you respond to the situation? While some people may have no difficulty dealing with these events, for others, they may trigger unpleasant feelings that make it impossible to cope and carry on with normal activities. No two people experience one event the same way and psychological distress is a subjective experience. This means that the severity of psychological distress is dependent upon the situation and how we individually perceive it. Some psychologists suggest that distress is a continuum, with ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ at either end. I would have a broader view, but let’s go with this way of thinking for the moment.
Symptoms of psychological distress
Just as no two people experience events in the same way, no two people manifest psychological distress in exactly the same way. For example, suppose that you and your mother were in a car accident and both of you experienced psychological distress as a result. Yet while you experience sleep disturbances, fatigue and sadness, your mother experiences anxiety related to driving and memory problems and avoids social activities.