The effect of adverse events
You may have heard about R U OK? day. A result of suicide prevention, R U OK? day this year is on 9 September. What is this message about I hear you asking? It is a question to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with the people around them. It also enables us to start a conversation with people who may be struggling with life.
I believe that the R U OK? question needs to be in our consciousness all the time and that we need to be willing to ask this question at any time, not just one day of the year. That we be willing to connect with family, friends, colleagues, strangers. That we show a willingness to reach out to others.
Recently I was in a store and noticed that the salesperson didn’t look well. I asked her: “Are you OK?” and she gratefully acknowledged that I had asked her. She said that she was struggling to wear a mask all day. She said that it was good to just be able to say that to someone.
During our lifetime we will experience adverse events. Adverse events are defined as an event where the person has experienced harm either physical or emotional or both. For a person who has experienced a number of adverse events, especially when some or all of these may have occurred in childhood it is believed that this person will then experience toxic stress.
Stress vs Toxic Stress
We all experience stress. Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. Some other words to describe stress are pressure, strain and tension. When a person is stressed the experience is a mind-body phenomenon. Thoughts are unhelpful, people may ruminate and worry excessively. The physiology changes so that people may experience headaches, muscles tightness and become ill (mentally and/or physically).
Do a quick check-in with yourself and consider the level of stress you may be currently experiencing. Do you think that you are experiencing higher levels of stress during the past 18 months with the advent of Covid-19 in whichever ways this is effecting you and your loved ones.
There are 4 types of stress:
- Distress: a prolonged period of stress where the person feels distressed, sad, depressed.
- Hyper-stress: a prolonged period during which the person is overstimulated. Exposure to stress where adrenaline is high. Frontline workers (military, emergency services, A & E staff) often report hyper-stress.
- Hypo-stress: a prolonged period of under stimulation. Where a person has insufficient challenges. This can happen to people in retirement.
- Eu-stress: feeling the pressure, however, it is short term and the end result is a positive one. (Pre and post-Covid this could be planning for a wedding, birthday party, holiday.)
Toxic stress results in prolonged activation of the stress response, with a failure of the body to recover fully. It differs from a normal stress response in that there is a lack of caregiver support, reassurance, or emotional attachments.
Engaging in addictive behaviours such as substance use or gambling, experiencing burn out, anxiety attacks or panic attacks are some of the ways we react when stressed. Toxic stress can cause people to become angry and aggressive.
More helpful strategies are to engage in eating well, exercise, meditation and relaxation. In addition this it is imperative to have a support system in place. This support is from people around you. This includes the need to ask the question: RU OK?
- Rather than ask someone what is wrong ask them what has happened.
- Take a moment for yourself
- Be willing to open the conversation. From the RU OK? Website follow these four steps to have that conversation
- Ask RU OK?
- Encourage Action
- Check-in again
Article Written by:
Allied Health Manager at Currumbin Clinic, Psychologist in clinical practice for over 25 years