Full Details Related to MH 026 :: Discussing Stress Management with a Counselling Psychologist | Stacey Fong | Moulding Health | KITRIN
In this episode, we speak to Stacey Fong, a Counselling Psychologist based in South Africa. She discusses the topic of Stress Management with us, from a counselling psychologist perspective.
Link to Audio Episode on Stress Management
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Show Notes on Stress Management
Supporting Article Written by Stacey Fong on Stress Management
By Stacey Fong | 27 December 2021
Counselling Psychologist & Career Development Practitioner
BA Psych Hons (UJ), MA Couns. Psych (UJ) HPCSA: 0134066 | BHF: 0905658
Thank you to Oliver Nagaya and Shaz Hattingh for inviting me to the Moulding Health Show to chat about the stress response. It’s a great initiative in making psychological knowledge more accessible.
So, why write an article in conjunction with the podcast? During our conversation, Oliver requested further information about the fight-or-flight response, and oh dear, my own stress response was triggered! At that moment I froze, and I couldn’t find the file in my brain that needed to answer the question satisfactorily. This piece has been added to the podcast to rectify that.
What is Stress?
Stress can be thought of as an adaptive response to situations and/or events that challenge our ability to cope [4,7]. This adaptive function can be helpful in driving us to deal with challenging situations or motivate us to achieve desired goals. Causes of stress are diverse, including common examples such as relationship difficulties, meeting deadlines, paying bills, waiting in traffic or a long queue, getting the kids to bed on time – and the list goes on. Stress can also be triggered by seemingly more positive events like planning a wedding, buying a car or home, or having a child.
The acute stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, is triggered when our senses perceive a possible threat. The alarm goes off in the brain and this initiates a cascade of hormones and bodily reactions that happen very quickly giving us the momentum to deal with the stressor [2,4,6,7]. Once the stressor has been managed or passed the body should return to a calm, balanced state (homeostasis). Ideally, our body remains in this state of homeostasis which is a balance between two parts of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic systems (PNS). The SNS is triggered into action when we face a stressor, while the PNS works to restore the body to a calm state . Let’s take a look at what happens in the brain, what hormones are released, and the changes that happen in the body during the fight-or-flight response.
Once the brain processes the sensory information as a stressor, a part of the brain known as the amygdala (typically associated with emotion processing) sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus which is involved in hormone production. The hypothalamus activates the SNS which signals to the adrenal glands to release epinephrine commonly known as adrenaline. This response leads to the physiological changes that allow us to fight or flee, which felt like an “adrenaline rush”. Changes include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, more blood flow to muscles needed for action and less blood flow to organs that do not contribute to motor activity like the digestive system. Epinephrine also stimulates the liver to convert glycogen to glucose (blood sugar) to provide more energy to the muscles. Respiration becomes rapid as the lungs take in more oxygen, and more oxygen is diverted to the brain to assist with sharpening sight and hearing [2,4,6].
The hypothalamus forms part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which includes the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands that network to activate the second phase of the stress response. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. ACTH then travels through the blood to the adrenal cortex stimulating the release of the stress hormone cortisol to prolong alertness during stressful situations [2,4,7].
Once the stressor has passed the PNS works to return the body to a pre-arousal state and aids recovery. It dampens the stress response by slowing down heart rate, lowering blood pressure and stimulating digestion [2,4,6].
In modern society, there may be constant daily hassles or demands placed on us, and the body’s flight-or-flight system doesn’t get the chance to switch off. This potentially leads to chronic stress and dysfunctional responses such as stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, sleep dysregulation and some mental health disorders . Developing skills to cope with stress is thus essential.
Stress management can be thought of as building resilience by enhancing current strategies or learning new strategies to assist your body in returning to its usual restful state. The first step in stress management is to notice when you are stressed. The second is to begin to identify what situations trigger stress. The third is learning how to implement strategies to help you cope with stressful moments. And the fourth step is learning to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle lifelong [1,5].
Stress reduction can be unique to each person, it!s best for each individual to discover what works for them. Examples of stress reduction for some include playing a sport, doing yoga, meditating, deep breathing exercises, strolling in the park, going for a massage, listening to soothing music, journaling, or practicing gratitude. There are great apps that people can use as daily aids like Hey Happy, meditation apps like Headspace or Calm, or a mood monitoring app like Daylio.
Overall, living a healthier lifestyle (eating more healthy foods, incorporating physical activity into your routine, resting and finding a balance between the various aspects of life) can facilitate stress management. Avoid less healthy coping strategies like numbing through substance use or scrolling through social media endlessly or binge-watching something for days on end. These strategies can be helpful to a point but when it begins to impede your ability to perform daily tasks this can be a handy warning sign to seek assistance from those around you or a professional.
Sometimes therapy sessions might entail…
Developing self-awareness by becoming aware of the signs that you’re stressed, noting what’s happening in your body and observing the thoughts associated with the stressful event. Exploring how you feel in relation to the event as well as identifying stress triggers and reactions to stress. We may have conversations around rediscovering the healthy strategies and self-care activities that have worked for you while exploring new strategies where necessary such as progressive muscle relaxation, or savouring and learning to be more present. As an integrative therapist using various modalities like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , Solution Focused Therapy (SFT) alongside mindfulness techniques and positive psychology tools, I hope to explore what works best for you in managing daily stressors.
1. Alborzkouh, P., Nabati, M., Zainali, M., Abed, Y., & Ghahfarokhi, F. S. (2015). A review of the effectiveness of stress management skills training on academic vitality and psychological well-being of college students. Journal of Medicine and Life, 8(Spec Iss 4), 39.
2. Chu, B., Marwaha, K., Sanvictores, T., & Ayers, D. (2021). Physiology, stress reaction. Stat Pearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/
3. Ghadiri, B. A. F., & MichaeliI, M. F. (2015). The effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral stress management training on psychological well-being and school satisfaction on teenage girls. Armaghane Danesh, 20(5), 433-443.
4. Goldstein, D. S. (2010). Adrenal responses to stress. Cellular and molecular neurobiology, 30(8), 1433-1440.
5. Hailu, G. N. (2020). Practice of stress management behaviors and associated factors among undergraduate students of Mekelle University, Ethiopia: a cross-sectional study. BMC psychiatry, 20(1), 1-7.
6. Harvard University. (2011). Understanding the stress response. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from
7. Selye, H. (1950). Stress and the general adaptation syndrome. British medical journal, 1(4667), 1383.
Useful Links from the Episode on Stress Management
Info on Counselling Psychology
Herewith link to Cognition and Co. website (https://cognitionandco.co.za) for helpful information for individuals wanting to pursue a career in psychology.
This is a focus area Stacey is passionate about and currently runs a work readiness course on the Value ed (https://www.valueed.co.za/) platform catered to SA youth. In terms of subject choice and career pathing, this is something she does in her practice to assist youth in making informed decisions regarding their futures.