Two things you should know about stress. One, you can’t eliminate it from your life completely. Two, you can learn how to manage stress and reduce it.
Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. We all experience stress in our lives from time to time. Although it’s not wholly a bad thing, when it reaches unhealthy levels and turns into chronic or prolonged stress, this is when it creates problems and impacts our lives, work, or health negatively.
According to The American Institute Of Stress, about 77 % of people experience stress that impacts their physical health, 33 % observe extreme stress, 73 % of people report having stress that affects their mental health, and 48 % have trouble sleeping due to stress. These stress statistics demonstrate the prevalence of this state of mind.
Especially in today’s fast-paced world, where stress is unavoidable, everybody should know how it feels like, what causes stress, stress symptoms, types of stress, and most importantly, how to manage and reduce stress levels.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to any challenge, demand, change, or threat.
Some of the situations that may cause stress are given below:
- Losing a job
- Before delivering a public speech
- Heavy workload
- Getting married
- Losing ties with loved ones
- Financial struggles
- Failing a course or year
- Family issues
- Exposure to a traumatic event
- Going for a job interview
The above stressors include both positive and negative stress.
How to differentiate between positive and negative stress?
Whether it’s positive and healthy or negative and unhealthy, it depends upon the situation.
Eustress, a positive form of stress, is defined as stress which enables you to perform better, which has a beneficial effect on your health, performance, and emotional well-being.
On the contrary, negative stress or distress refers to stress that continues without relaxation or relief and contributes to many health problems, such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Psychological stress is what a person feels when he/she undergoes mental, physical, or emotional pressure.
According to Richard Lazarus and Folkman (1984),
“Psychological stress is a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being.”
Like we mentioned earlier as well that not all stress is bad. Eustress can actually be healthy, beneficial, and even desired for you. Excessive negative stress or distress affects your health and performance, and if not addressed, it may lead to more serious medical conditions.
Some of the more common stressors of psychological stress are:
- Illness in oneself or a family member
- Financial crisis
- Marital problems
- Conflicts at home
- Death of a loved one
- Traumatic events
What does stressor mean?
If you’re new to the term ‘stressor,’ here’s a simple definition of this word. Stressors are events, activities, or conditions in your surroundings that cause the release of stress hormones. In other words, you can say a stressor is a stimulus that causes stress.
Types of stress
Based on characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches, stress can be divided into three different types: Acute, Episodic acute, and Chronic.
It is the most common yet the least damaging form of stress. The symptoms develop quickly due to a stressful event, but they don’t usually last long, which is why it’s called ‘acute.’
It occurs mostly due to the negative thoughts about situations or events that either occurred lately or are coming in the near future. It gives you both a frightening and thrilling feeling.
Some of the situations that can cause acute stress are:
- A fight with your spouse
- An argument with a colleague
- An upcoming work deadline
- Escaping a car accident
Episodic acute stress
The term episodic acute is used when a person suffers acute stress frequently. It mostly happens to those who take more responsibilities than they can manage. As a result, they are always under pressure and feel like nothing works out for them. Such people often live a life of chaos and crisis. Episodic acute stress can put your mental and physical health in danger.
An example of episodic acute stress could be when your boss mostly criticizes you so, you take on more projects to make him happy but usually cannot meet the deadline.
Chronic stress does the most harm to your physical health and mental well-being. It is prolonged or long-term stress that occurs when a person experiences high-stress levels for an extended period. If left untreated, it may lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other dangerous illnesses.
Some of the situations that can cause chronic stress are:
- Traumatic childhood events
- Living in an unhappy and abusive marriage
- Constant exposure to violence
- Pressure related to work/job
Causes of stress
Learning about its causes can help you to manage stress in a productive way. The release of stress hormones in your body is normally due to things happening in your life that involve:
- Moving to another city/county/place
- Starting a new job
- Loss of a family member
- Rejection in love
- Constant criticism at the workplace
- Long-term illness or injury
- Routine tasks such as house chores
- Relationship problems
- Traumatic events
- Being bullied
- High workload
- Beginning of a new relationship
- Mental health conditions
- Taking on too much burden/responsibilities
- Working in a noisy environment
- The pressure of exams or studies
- Insufficient sleep
- Getting fired from your job
It’s also possible that a situation that doesn’t bother you might be extremely stressful for someone else. Reason? Everyone is different and reacts differently to situations. But why two people respond to the same stressful situation differently?
It might be because of their unique life experiences, mental and physical health, the environment they grew up in, differences in temperament, gender, personality types, and emotional intelligence level. Other than these factors, there are many others as well that play a crucial role in how a person behaves under pressure.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Identifying the symptoms is the first step to controlling stress. Is it easy to spot the warning signs? Not very easy. Why? Because we are so used to feeling stressed most of the time that we often ignore the alarming signs until we reach the breaking point. Its commonality makes it very easy to brush off, especially in this contemporary world where everyone is just too busy, and everything is moving too fast.
If you recognize the symptoms at an early stage, you’ll be able to manage stress by taking action to keep it under control before it takes a toll on your life, health, and well-being.
The symptoms can vary from person to person, as everyone handles pressure differently.
Following are the common symptoms you may experience when you’re feeling stressed out;
Effects of stress on the body
Stress can cause tension in your muscles. It’s the body’s way of protecting itself from pain and injury. And, once the stress passes, the muscles release their tension. However, tensed muscles for long periods can be harmful and may trigger other stress reactions in your body and even lead to stress-related disorders.
During a stressful episode, many people experience tension-type headaches, migraines, and some other types of headaches. Some people, when under stress, clench their jaw or grind their teeth. Due to this, their jaw muscles tighten, and the pain then travels to other places in the skull, which causes headaches or, in severe cases, migraines.
Stress can keep you up at night. When you worry about something, it demands your constant attention so much that it disrupts your sleeping patterns. Sleep is a time for your body and mind to rest, and if you take stress with you while trying to sleep, you may have a hard time resting.
Stress indeed affects digestion. Stress for an extended period of time can cause problems, such as diarrhea, cramping, constipation, or other serious digestive issues.
Effects of stress on your mood
Stress can increase your risk of developing anxiety. It’s normal to get anxious because of daily stressors like caring for a child, traffic jams, or house chores but constant exposure to stress over a prolonged period of time is an issue that can lead to long-term anxiety and other health problems.
Lack of Motivation:
Where eustress motivates you to accomplish your tasks and reach your goals, distress does the exact opposite. It causes your motivation to decrease. Sometimes, you are even not able to concentrate or focus on things.
Irritability or Anger:
Excessive tension or pressure can cause people to be irritable or angry. It mostly happens when you go through a stressful event, and things continue to pile up. Now, you are at a stage where it’s hard for you to manage or control your emotions anymore. The gradual increase in stress over time makes you angry and less tolerant of the people around you.
Everyone feels sad from time to time, but depression is not just sadness. Sadness usually passes with time, whereas depression does not go away and affects the person’s ability to function normally. Chronic stress can increase the risk of developing depression if you’re not taking any action to manage stress in a healthy way.
Effects of stress on your behavior
When you feel overwhelmed by stress, you attempt to find a way to deal with these bad feelings. Some people overeat, and other people undereat while coping with stress. Those who eat more are trying to distract themselves with food, and for people who are eating less, there’s a feeling of control. So, you can say that if you’re stressed most of the time, you can develop eating disorders.
Chronic nerve-racking events can cause people to withdraw from social life. Such people are often caged by their negative thoughts due to excessive pressure and feel an overwhelming urge to be alone and minimize their contact with others.
Exercise or other physical activity helps reduce stress. However, it’s not so easy to convince yourself to hit the gym when you’re feeling stressed. Too much stress can sabotage your workout.
Stress distracts you, which is why you tend to put more things off and then feel stressed thinking about the tasks you haven’t completed. As you do this, you leave more things undone and feel overwhelmed. And, this is how it affects your performance and makes you less productive.
How To Manage Stress?
Following are some tried and tested stress management techniques that will help you to manage stress effectively;
Visualization promotes relaxation and helps alleviate stress. When you are troubled by negative thoughts or anxious about events coming shortly, you can use this effective technique to calm your body and mind.
Imagine all the positive things that may give you a sense of comfort, confidence, or power. By doing this, you are basically diverting your thought process from negative to positive, hence reducing the effect of stressfulness.
Positive self-talk is a great way to deal with the unwanted intrusive thoughts that disturb your peace of mind. At times, it may feel like you can’t free your mind of these thoughts, but that’s just your mind playing tricks on you.
When you are under pressure, self-talk can actually help you declutter your mind and free your mental space.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communication expert, in their jointly written book, Words Can Change Your Brain, state,
‘A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.’
I believe everyone should practice positive self-talk every day, not only when they are on the verge of a mental or emotional breakdown.
When you breathe deeply, you’re forcing your mind to focus on breathing and not the negative situation. And, when your mind does that, you ultimately feel more chill and peaceful.
Moreover, deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to your brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body.
The next time you feel anxious, sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes gently, and slowly take deep breaths for 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll be amazed by how effective this simple technique is.
When your body is tensed up, it disrupts your sleep and makes things more difficult for you. But, you’ll be able to cope with stress when you are well-rested. Follow a sleep routine and stick to it. It will calm and restore your body, improve focus, increase productivity, regulate mood, and sharpen your decision-making skills.
Exercise is one of the most effective strategies to deal with and manage stress. Not only that exercise reduces levels of adrenaline and cortisol, but it also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
If you want to stay calm, healthy, and relaxed, never skip your workout.
Taking on more work than you can manage is also a reason why you are always under pressure. If you really want to learn how to manage stress, start saying ‘no,’ when you already have a lot on your plate. You can save your energy and value your time by politely declining someone’s request.
What do you think is the best way to manage stress?