Dr Ed­die Mur­phy

On the causes of dis­tress

RTÉ Guide - - Contents - with Dr Ed­die Mur­phy

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.

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