Stress is often defined as a bad thing, affecting our emotional and physical health. However, it is precisely stress that helps us cope with demanding situations and come out successful in the end. The difference is made by the amount of stress we have in our lives – if we are constantly under pressure, this is not good.
Coping with stress is possible, as you will discover in this article. The most important thing is to strive for balance, learning to recognize the symptoms and causes of stress early on. You can then take the necessary measures to manage and reduce your stress, feeling better overall.
What Is Stress?
Upon feeling threatened or under pressure, our bodies respond through stress. The response is connected to the release of cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This automatically places our bodies in the “fight-or-flight” situation, with the brain oscillating between the two options.
In reality, stress has a protective effect. It helps us stay focused and, in case of an emergency, it can force us to take life-saving decisions. Stress will fill us with energy to protect ourselves, as well as identify the best solution to reduce immediate threat or danger.
In our professional lives, it is stress that forces us to meet the demands or challenges of our jobs. As a result of stress, we are able to meet deadlines, to improve our work-related skills and to perfect our careers. There is, however, a limit and going beyond that will lead to burnout, with a major impact on health.
Effects of Stress on the Body
Even though the nervous system accomplishes a lot of important functions, it might have a hard time distinguishing between a real threat and a stress-related situation (such as an imposing deadline or an argument you had with your friend). Unfortunately, each stressful situation will reinforce the threat alert response.
Being in a permanent state of stress can damage your health, with vital organs and systems suffering in the process. People who are constantly stressed suffer from low immunity, they have digestive complaints and even their reproductive health is affected. The risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke is considerably higher, while each cell in the body can age more rapidly as a result of stress.
From a mental health perspective, stress can lead to anxiety and depression. When a person is permanently wired, it is important to take a step back and try out stress coping strategies. As you will read below, you can overcome negative thoughts and get back to a normal, healthy life.
Types of stress
There are different types of stress and it is important to be aware of each, as knowing how a certain type can appear might also lead to identifying the best possible coping strategies.
It is a known fact that acute stress is one of the most common types of stress, appearing in response to an impending deadline or other daily demands. It can be present in the form of pressure, either resulting from your child’s school demands, work-related issues or small incidents occurring throughout the day.
Acute stress can lead to emotional distress, causing you to become angry or irritable. It can lead to tension headaches and digestive complaints, not to mention it might affect blood pressure values and cause heart palpitations. Unlike chronic stress, it is easier to address and manage.
Episodic Acute Stress
Acute stress can appear in the form of episodes, this type often being present in those who lead dysfunctional lives. If you are prone to this type of stress, you might easily become irritated or frustrated. According to recent studies, episodic acute stress affects only certain personality types, leading to health problems on the long run.
People who experience this type of stress typically complain of tension headaches that do not go away, as well as chest pain and a general feeling of urgency. The good news is that such manifestations can be easily improved through lifestyle changes and adequate management of daily schedule.
Chronic stress can be defined as the type of stress that becomes permanent, with an effect on both mental and physical health. People who are not satisfied with their lives – due to illness, poverty, financial problems or unsatisfying relationships – are at high risk of suffering from the effects of chronic stress.
Trauma can lead to chronic stress as well, with people internalizing the negative experience and suffering from psychosomatic manifestations. Chronic stress can lead to serious mental health issues, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attacks and even suicide. Behavioral therapies and stress management can help in this case.
Causes of Stress
A stressor is either a positive or a negative experience that caused us to feel stressed. The higher the demand, the more stressed we are going to feel. For example, getting married is considered as one of the top reasons for which people suffer from various types of stress.
It is important to know that stress can be self-generated as well. People who are the “worry type” can suffer from stress, as a result of negative thought patterns. Stress is also perceived differently by each individual – while for some an event can appear to be stressful, others might see it as exhilarating.
Among the most common external causes of stress, there are: professional lives, school/academic performance, financial difficulties, family issues, the disease of being busy, relationship problems and, finally, any major life changes (marriage, having children, etc.).
When it comes to the internal causes of stress, these can include: irrational or dysfunctional thoughts, negative thinking, pessimism, lack of flexibility in thinking (rigidity), talking down, having unrealistic expectations and wanting for everything to be perfect.
Studies have confirmed that some of the most stressful events in a person’s life include the death of the partner, getting divorced or separated, being in prison, having a close family member die, suffering from an injury or chronic disease, getting married, losing one’s job, reconciling with the spouse and retiring.
Symptoms of Stress
We rarely notice that we are stressed. This is the main reason why we need to be on the lookout and identify the symptoms of stress as early as it is possible. It is also essential to remember that one can present not only physical and emotional, but also cognitive and behavioral manifestations induced by stress.
The physical symptoms of stress can include back pain, stomach aches, digestive complaints (diarrhea, constipation, flatulence), feeling nauseated or dizzy, heart palpitations, increased pulse, loss of libido and low-immunity (colds, flu).
Emotionally-speaking, stress can cause one to become anxious, depressed and unhappy. Chronic stress is often associated with a state of agitation, irritability and frustration. Mood swings are frequent, as well as social isolation and feeling overwhelmed.
Stress can lead to memory impairment, concentration difficulties and inability to take decisions. Negative thought patterns can emerge, with the person being in a constant state of worry. Eating and sleeping can be affected; one might have difficulties assuming responsibilities, turning instead to alcohol or drug abuse. Nervous habits can occur with chronic stress, such as pacing or biting one’s nails.
Ways to Manage and Reduce Your Stress
There are numerous stress management ways that you can try out, either by yourself or with the help of a therapist.
For example, physical exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Regular movement stimulates the release of happiness hormones in the brain, allowing you to break the negative thought pattern. You can opt for walking, running, jogging, dancing or swimming.
Social interaction can help people feel less stressed, eliminating feelings of low self-esteem, security or agitation. Upon having a meaningful conversation with someone, you will feel calmer and your mood will improve. The same goes for engaging in some of your favorite hobbies, boosting feelings of happiness.
A healthy diet, an adequate intake of water and getting enough rest can also help. You might also want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy and stress management classes, as well as relaxation techniques, deep breathing and other alternative solutions.
In conclusion, stress can be a positive reinforcement for meeting daily challenges but we have to pay attention at the amount affecting us every day. It is important to recognize the effects of stress on the body and make the necessary measures to manage the associated consequences.