‘Stress management’ is defined as any sort of attempt to reduce the negative effects of stress. Management techniques are generally either biological or psychological approaches to dealing with the stress. Psychological methods of stress management try to control the body’s response to stress by altering the way we think about the stressor. These methods include Stress Inoculation Training and Hardiness training. However I am going to focus on the Biological methods of stress management.
They try to control the body’s response to stress by reducing physiological activity, it often includes methods like biofeedback and drug therapy. The group of drugs most commonly used to treat anxiety and stress are Benzodiazepines, this drug slows down the activity of the central nervous system. GABA is a neurotransmitter, which is the body’s natural form of anxiety relief, when it is released it has a general quieting effect on many of the neurons in the brain. It does this by reacting with GABA receptors on the outside of receiving neurons.
When GABA locks into these receptors it opens a channel which increases the flow of chloride ions into the neuron. Chloride ions make it harder for the neuron to be stimulated by other neuro-transmitters, which slows the activity down and makes the person feel more relaxed. Benzodiazepines enhance the action of GABA by binding special sites on the GABSA receptor and boosting the action of GABA. This allows even more chloride ions to be released into the neuron, therefore making the brain even more resistant to excitation. One of the strengths of drugs is that they are very effective in combatting the effects of stress.
Kahn et al followed around 250 paitents over eight weeks and found that BZs were significantly more superior to a placebo. A meta- analysis of studies focusing on the treatment of social anxiety found that BZs were more effective at reducing this anxiety than other drugs such as anti-depressants. However, they do not come without problems. BZs have recently been found to be addictive. BZs were first introduced around 40 years ago and replaced barbiturates which generally tended to be addictive. Patients even taking low doses of BZs show marked withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.
However, because of such addiction problems there is a recommendation that the use of BZs should be limited to a maximum of 4 weeks. Another type of drug used to manage stress are Beta-Blockers. Beta blockers reduce the activity of adrenaline and noradrenaline which are part of the sympatho medullary response to stress. Beta blockers bind to the beta receptors on the cells of the heart and other parts of the body that are usually stimulated during arousal. By blocking these receptors, beta blockers cause the reverse effect of stress hormones, causing the heart to beat slower and with less force.
The action of beta blockers also means that blood vessels do not contract so easily. This results in a fall of blood pressure, and therefore less stress on the heart. Beta-Blockers are excellent in the way that they supress sympathetic arousal. Stress leads to the arousal of sympathetic nervous system and this creates raised blood pressure, increased heart rate etc. These symptoms can lead to cardiovascular disorders and can also reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. So by taking Beta-Blockers it can help you keep healthy and even help keep away from cardiovascular disease.
As well as this beta blockers have been found to be very effective in reducing anxiety in a variety of real life stressful situations. Lockwood studied over 2000 musicians in major US symphony orchestras and found that 27% reported taking beta-blockers. The musicians in this study said that they felt better about their performance after taking beta blockers, and music critics consistently judged they’re performance to be better. Another great benefit of using drugs is the ease of use. It require very little, if any, motivation or effort from the patient. You just have to remember to take the pills.
Unlike psychological methods, where a lot of time, dedication and motivation are needed. On the other hand, drugs may be very effective as treating symptoms but the effect only lasts while a person is taking the drugs. As soon as they stop taking the drugs the effectiveness stops. It may be okay as the stress may of have passed, but in cases of chronic stress, it may not be appropriate to simply use a ‘quick fix’ option, especially if it could create long term problems such as addiction. This means that it may be better to find treatment that addresses the problem its self rather than just the symptoms.