Shame

Shame

“It seems that you’re carrying a sense of shame,” my therapist said to me as I finished speaking. “Shame?”, I looked up, startled, confused, skeptical. For as long as I had been struggling, trying to wade through my thoughts, feelings and emotions, there were various expressions and descriptions I would have used, yet not once had the word “shame” crossed my mind. As we progressed through the sessions, peeling off layer after layer to unveil my not-so-glamorous belief system, it began to make more sense to me. Shame was indeed a theme that had repeated and manifested itself, time and again, in various aspects of my life.

What is shame?

Shame is a feeling or emotional state which comes from viewing oneself as bad, inferior or unworthy. It is often confused with guilt. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two: Guilt is an emotion of having done or not done something, so it is associated with behaviors, whereas shame is a feeling that we are inherently flawed, bad or undeserving. Just as we experience guilt, most of us feel shame to some degree, in one way or another. Shame can be borne out of guilt, but while the guilt may pass, shame can go deeper, and often has a more profound, toxic impact on us.

What creates shame?

Shame is felt and accumulated through various individual experiences. It could develop as a result of traumatic events, or it can be a product of how we are raised in our homes and cultures that each have their norms or codes of conduct. Religious conditioning can play a predominant role in creating shame. Social media adds a public dimension to it, taking it beyond borders as people inflict humiliation online, unleashing their opinions without inhibitions. Shaming as an act targets the person as opposed to their behavior. However, for many of us, shame originates without a clear, definite reason, creeping up on us even as we carry out our routine, mundane, day-to-day activities. 

Shame can be healthy, for example, when we do something that could be morally wrong such as harming others, in which case it drives us to change our behavior. The harmful kind of shame is toxic shame because it is usually caused by unjust reasons and is rooted in traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, harsh criticism, or other emotional experiences which we may not even recognize as trauma. Depending on circumstance and experience, shame can either be felt for a short span of time, or it can last longer, often carrying over from childhood.

How does shame impact us?

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change” – Brene Brown.

The impact of shame is deep and far reaching. It makes us feel small, humiliated and unworthy, often hampering our ability to function efficiently in our daily lives and affecting our interpersonal relationships. As it is usually painful and debilitating to face shame, we often follow evasive emotional patterns to avoid it, using coping behaviors such as anger, addiction, perfectionism, narcissism, lying, suppressing feelings, self-neglect or self-harm. Persistent shame ultimately impacts our mental health, and it is common for a shame-ridden person to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, and feelings of low self-worth. Women are more prone to feeling shame than men, and some studies have shown that it is most acutely felt by adolescents.

Dealing with shame

  1. The very first step in dealing with shame is to recognize and acknowledge it. Notice the emotion and bring it to the surface. Become aware of your triggers and observe how shame makes its appearance. Think of it as a story and give it a title, for example, “The I am unworthy story”. This technique can help to detach the mind from getting caught up in its thought and reduce the intensity of the shame, taking away its power.
  2. Confide in someone and share your feelings with them. Make yourself vulnerable to someone you feel safe and comfortable with. Chances are that you will find you are not alone in feeling this way. A confidante may also help you to challenge some of the self-condemning thoughts you are struggling with.
  3. Be your own friend and advocate: What would you say to a friend who was feeling the same way? Talk to yourself the way you would talk to them. Stop bullying yourself and replace the self-berating talk with self-compassion. One way of doing this would be to use the “balcony view” approach. Take a seat on the balcony on the floor above, and observe your thoughts and feelings, placing them on the balcony below. Change how to talk to yourself and approach the self-downing talk with empathy and kindness.
  4. Respond to the shame by changing the narrative. For example, replace the thought “I am bad” with “I did something bad”, or “I am a failure” to “This didn’t work out”. Doing this helps to disentangle the act from the person and helps us to recognize the fact that our acts do not define us.
  5. Seek professional help: a mental health professional can help to reach the heart of the problem, equip you with tools and techniques to deal with and overcome the problem.

Carl Jung described shame as a “soul-eating emotion”. However, shame will only gnaw away at us if we allow it to. The power to take back control lies within us.

In the words of Jennifer Edwards – “The beauty of life is, while we cannot undo what is done, we can see it, understand it, learn from it and change so that every new moment is spent not in regret, guilt, fear or anger but in wisdom, understanding and love”.

Student Stress

A majority of the students experience significant or even chronic amounts of stress and this can take a serious toll on their grades, happiness and overall well being. The demands of an institution like university or school, like academic demands, being away from home and friends and family in case of boarding schools and hostels, or bullying and peer pressure from other students require a lot of effort on their part to adapt, adjust and flourish. 

Moreover, a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that adolescents report stress levels as similar to those of adults. This means that often the stressors that students face may exceed their ability to cope efficiently. However, there are many techniques of stress management, and in severe cases, treatment also helps reduce the symptoms of stress considerably. 

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to adverse situations. Though stress is mostly perceived as something bad, it can in fact be good in some cases. The right kind of stress can help hone our skills and train our brain to help our body perform better and tackle tricky situations to suit our needs. Biologically, stress is a physiological reaction in our body where certain hormones are released resulting in physical manifestations of stress. 

A Brief Overview of Stress in Students and Its Types

Student life, for most, involves dealing with a significant amount of stress which takes significant tolls on health, both physical and mental, and often grades too. A well reviewed study by the American Psychology Association (APA) found that teens usually report similar levels of stress as adults. This means that teens experienced significant levels of chronic stress, and a lot of them admitted to their stress levels generally exceeding their ability to cope with it effectively. 

Usually there are three kinds of common types of student stress, or in other words, three broad categories of stress triggers:

  • Social: Social stress puts enormous peer pressure on students. This includes dealing with new relationships, living with or without family members, balancing academic life with their social life, adjusting to new environments, all of these can trigger stress in students.
  • Academic: Tight schedules, deadlines, projects and assignments, sometimes low grades, exams, managing personal chores and other academic responsibilities, challenging classes or subjects, and often overall poor time management can all lead to a extreme academic stress, just the sheer thought of not being able to finish tasks at hand can add to or cause stress in students.
  • Daily life: Often non-academic aspects can act as stress triggers too, some students take up part-time jobs which have their own stress dynamic, another common cause of stress is traffic or commute related triggers or even financial issues, and so on.

Signs and symptoms that you might be stressed:

  • If you are irritable and not enjoying whatever activity you are currently engaged in
  • If you seem anxious, fidgety and worried all the time
  • If you have a disturbed sleep schedule and have trouble sleeping
  • If you cannot concentrate and snap at people too often
  • If you feel short of breath or breathe very fast

Causes of Stress in Students

Identifying what causes stress in students can be the first step towards addressing it and eventually managing or treating it. Knowing the stress triggers and learning how to micromanage the molecular issues can help the students help experience less stress and also allows people around to support them better.

Following are the issues that can cause stress among students

  • Tests on subjects that the student finds challenging or difficult: Often, when preparing or sitting for an examination that you have scored badly in earlier, or have negative presumptions about beforehand, a student may display symptoms of stress and develop test anxiety. 
  • Overloaded by homework, projects, presentations with the added burden of group projects: Excessive workload, just as it does in the workplace, often pesters students to the extent that they may even develop stress issues. This can happen due to bad time management practices or simply because there is too much to do. 
  • A heavy workload perhaps due to their part-time job commitments: Part-time jobs are just as tiring as students’ schoolwork. More often than not, they require dull work that the students simply do not enjoy doing and are paid peas for. This could be a source of stress as well. 
  • Lack of organizational skills and poor time management: Poor time management skills and bad managerial and organizational skills renders students, or anyone, unable to handle the daily hassles of life. This leads to the development of stress. 
  • Stress due to relationships: High school and college also overlap with the time period when adolescents begin to foster intimate relationships. Any conflict in these can also lead to stress. 
  • Getting too little rest and poor sleep schedule: A poor sleep cycle is linked to numerous mental and physical health issues.
  • Lack of proper support leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms: 
  • Having difficulty transitioning to a new environment

Various effects of Stress on Students

Stress is a powerful feeling that can drive you to be successful in life, but at the same time, it can also be debilitatingly harmful. It can, if not handled properly, completely shake the foundations of your career and relationships. 

If you’re living with an uncontrollably high amount of stress, you’re not just putting your mental health at risk, you’re also very likely to have poor physical health. It is a proven fact that stressed individuals are likelier to expose themselves to pathogens of illnesses. Around 60-80% doctor visits are stress-related. This is because distress impacts our immunity levels drastically. 

Moreover, stressed students are also much more susceptible to taking part in health impairing activities such as:

  • Consuming high amounts of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • High dietary fat consumption
  • Substance abuse
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Risky driving
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Violent or suicidal behaviour

 Physical health problems and chronic illnesses like ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer have strong links with stress.

Few tips on managing Stress in Students

The only way to overcome stress is to learn about it. Practical stress management can help students deal with whatever worries them and eventually be more effective and productive with reduced negative feelings.

Usually students tend to have packed schedules and we are notoriously famous for skipping sleep, which leads to poor health which leads to poor hygiene and it keeps adding up until we fall ill.

Students can prevent staying in this vicious cycle by following these few tips to manage their stress:

  • Getting Organized. Getting organized is often the first step to lower your stress levels. Clutter can often cause decreased productivity, stress and even cost you money. Get soothing lights. Have a minimal indoor setup that is free of distractions.
  • Getting Enough Sleep. As stated before, a poor sleep cycle can harm a person’s mental and physical health drastically. So, cut back on your coffee intake, limit your screen time in the evening, and grab a book and go to bed at least before the clock ticks at 12. 
  • Maintaining a healthy diet, reducing eating junk food and sugar drinks. The gut-mind connection is stronger than we may give it the credit to be. A balanced diet can solve more problems than we can imagine. So, eat well and stop going for takeaways every alternate day. 
  • Getting enough exercise and getting some air and sunlight. Working out is as important as eating well. It helps release good endorphins into the system that are both immunity-boosting and help us counter stress. 
  • Listening to Music. Soothing music can help beat stress better than any other remedy. So, play some contemporary lo-fi or jazzhop or some classic Hans Zimmer or perhaps even Beethoven, if you wish, in the background when you study to beat the stress and tone down the mental chatter.

What is Stress?

Oftentimes, we come across an overload of demands from every single direction and dimension of our lives. Work, relationships, finances, family, etc., everything seems to take up more energy than ever before. When this happens, we feel a lot of pressure and tension as to what to do and how to cope as we feel unable to do so. This feeling of not being able to cope with the challenges of life is called stress.

Stress is a normal reaction to any changes that may occur internally (physical, or mental changes) or externally (environmental or social changes). This reaction is felt as a feeling of emotional, mental, or physiological strain. 

Stress is, most certainly, a regular component of our lives, and is also considered necessary for our survival. When you work overtime at work to secure a promotion or when you run an extra kilometer everyday to burn off those harmful kilograms, stress is the main motivator behind it all. At the same time, stress can be cripplingly harmful if you don’t know how to properly manage it. 

The level of stress that is good and healthy for us is called eustress. It helps us perform our tasks efficiently and manage minor crises. 

However, eustress can turn into distress if not managed the right way. This level of stress exceeds our ability to cope and has many severe physiological manifestations, too. 

Signs and Symptoms of Too Much Stress

When we feel overwhelmed by stress, we tend to experience both emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms negatively harm our body, our mind and our immunity to deal with any further physical or mental problems and stressors. 

Cognitive Symptoms: 

  • Inability to concentrate on the simplest tasks
  • Problem remembering things
  • Anxious, racing thoughts
  • Poor judgement, inability to make decisions
  • Thinking negatively about most situations
  • Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms: 

  • Depressive mood or unhappiness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Unable to manage or regulate emotions, moodiness
  • Feeling lonely and isolated

Behavioural Symptoms: 

  • Not eating a well-balanced diet
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Reckless behaviour
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Procrastination
  • Nail biting, pacing, etc.
  • Smoking

Physical Symptoms: 

  • Aches and pains
  • Constipation, or diarrhea
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Loss of libido or sex drive
  • Chest pain and rapid heart rate
  • Palpitations
  • Frequent colds or flu
  • Low immunity level
  • Nausea, dizziness

Effect of stress on mind and body

Stress is a powerful feeling that can drive you to be successful in life, but at the same time, it can also be debilitatingly harmful. It can, if not handled properly, completely shake the foundations of your career and relationships. 

If you’re living with an uncontrollably high amount of stress, you’re not just putting your mental health at risk, you’re also very likely to have poor physical health. It is a proven fact that stressed individuals are likelier to expose themselves to pathogens of illnesses. Around 60-80% doctor visits are stress-related. This is because distress impacts our immunity levels drastically. 

Moreover, stressed people are also much more susceptible to taking part in health impairing activities such as:

  • Consuming high amounts of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • High dietary fat consumption
  • Substance abuse
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Risky driving
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Violent or suicidal behaviour

 Physical health problems and chronic illnesses like ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer have strong links with stress.

Causes of Stress

The pressures and/or situations that cause stress (or, more specifically, distress) are called stressors. Anything that exceeds our ability to cope, or puts a high demand on us can be stressful and called a stressor. This can include events that make you excited or are good in general, as in, positive events like going to college, getting married, buying a new car, etc. 

Stressors can be internal or external. Internal stressors are generated by ourselves. When we overthink and worry about things, or have a negative and irrational perception about our lives and the world, we get stressed out. 

Our ability to cope and the kind of stressors that trigger a stress response in us are subjective. What may stress someone out may be a cakewalk for someone else. Some people might even enjoy a situation that may appear stressful to us.

Examples of causes of stress are as follows:

External causes of stress:

  • College, school, or work
  • Family, children, spouse
  • Finances 
  • Life changes
  • Difficulty in a relationship
  • Having no time for oneself

Internal causes of stress:

  • Pessimistic outlook 
  • Perfectionism
  • Rigid thinking
  • Negative self talk
  • Inability to deal with uncertainty
  • Black and white thinking
  • Catastrophic thinking

Tips for stress management

There are some life skills and habits that help us prevent getting too stressed and lead a good life in general. They enable individuals to deal with the challenges of everyday life with utmost efficiency. They are as follows:

  • Learn how to manage time properly. Spend your time doing things that you value or finishing tasks that bring you closer to achieving your goals. 
  • Set realistic, attainable, and sustainable goals. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, get at least 8 hours of sleep, and exercise regularly. 
  • Adopt a positive attitude. Living with an optimistic outlook towards life is going to guarantee that you choose problem-coping strategies over avoidance behaviour. 
  • Build good relationships and meaningful connections as well as improve upon your current relationships. This can be achieved with learning good communication skills. 
  • Spend some time on leisure activities that help you unwind regularly. 
  • Practice assertiveness and learn when to say “no”. 

Importance of Coming To Therapy 

If you are having trouble managing your stress, and it’s severely impacting multiple areas of your life, it’s time to consider therapy. Therapy helps you understand the cause and underlying meaning of your stress and it helps you learn how to manage it much more efficiently. The outcome is that of fruitful, if not life-changing insights, deeper understanding of the self and lifestyle changes that help you reach your fullest potential. At Incontact, we believe that every individual and his or her experiences are unique. Therefore, every individual requires a unique treatment plan. Our team of extensively experienced professionals adapt and evolve the treatment plan according to the client’s distinctive needs. We strive to create an eclectic mix of different concepts and therapeutic approaches to resolve the specific issues that you may be experiencing. For more information on our services offered for stress management, visit our service page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is stress an unnatural, abnormal reaction?

No. Stress is a normal response to something that exceeds our limit to cope and deal with efficiently. At the same time it drives us to do better. Stress is not only

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