Stress/Tension, Anxiety and Mental Health

By Julie Le Franc, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and Psychologist



       The word stress comes from the Latin “string ere’, which means to draw tight or compress.  It usually refers to actions or situations that place excessive physical or psychological demands upon people and threaten to unbalance them.

       While stress is commonplace in everyday life and contributes to the cause or to the persistence of many psychiatric conditions, it is in relation to physical illness that it has attracted most attention.  McWilliams (1994) suggested education is vital to the emotional equilibrium of an anxious patient, as patients can often fear going crazy with their underlying stress and torment.

       I have found that through the interpretation of patients feelings and their life stresses rather than their defences, that the patient feels more understood and is more willing to accept the interpretations of their disease and sources of torment that are causing their stress.

       Stress is a precursor to and is an essential component of anxiety.  Stress and anxiety do go together and it is the unpleasantness of anxiety that needs to be understood.  One could compare anxiety to pain as it is anxiety that plays a primary role in the development of disordered behaviour.  In one of Freud’s theories concerning anxiety, it was anxiety that led to depression and not the reverse.

       What do we do with these stressors and anxiety reactions?

·       Psychotherapy aims at uncovering and disarming the internal conflicts.

·       Coping mechanisms may include adopting a specific way of thinking or taking a certain action.

·       Abreaction is where previously unconscious experiences and ideas are recalled and the patient is made to re-live the experience to allow the connected emotions to be released.

·       Education is aimed at regulating habits and attitudes.

       We only need a few tools to better ourselves or improve ourselves.  We are responsible ourselves for our disease conditions, but the problem is to know what we did that led to a disease.  Generally, the shorter the duration of symptoms, the better the prognosis regardless of the severity.  Analytic theories offer us ways of helping patients to make sense of their irrationality and transform their vulnerabilities into strengths.




       McWilliams, J. (1994).  Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding personality structure in the clinical process. The Guildford Press, New York.

       The Medical Link December/January 2008 – issue number 056