Stress

What Is Stress? How To Deal With Stress?

We generally use the word "stress" when we feel that everything seems to have become too much - we are overloaded and wonder whether we really can cope with the pressures placed upon us. Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is a stress. Some stresses get you going and they are good for you - without any stress at all many say our lives would be boring and would probably feel pointless. However, when the stresses undermine both our mental and physical health they are bad. In this text we shall be focusing on stress that is bad for you.

Fight or flight response

The way you respond to a challenge may also be a type of stress. Part of your response to a challenge is physiological and affects your physical state. When faced with a challenge or a threat, your body activates resources to protect you - to either get away as fast as you can, or fight. If you are upstairs at home and an earthquake starts, the faster you can get yourself and your family out the more likely you are all to survive. If you need to save somebody's life during that earthquake, by lifting a heavy weight that has fallen on them during the earthquake, you will need components in your body to be activated to give you that extra strength - that extra push.

Our fight-or-flight response is our body's sympathetic nervous system reacting to a stressful event. Our body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which trigger a higher heart rate, heightened muscle preparedness, sweating, and alertness - all these factors help us protect ourselves in a dangerous or challenging situation.

Non-essential body functions slow down, such as our digestive and immune systems when we are in fight-or flight response mode. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness and muscle use.

So, let's recap, when we are stressed the following happens:
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Breathing becomes more rapid
  • Digestive system slows down
  • Heart rate (pulse) rises
  • Immune system goes down
  • Muscles become tense
  • We do not sleep (heightened state of alertness)
Most of us have varying interpretations of what stress is about and what matters. Some of us focus on what happens to us, such as breaking a bone or getting a promotion, while others think more about the event itself. What really matters are our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves.

We are continually sizing up situations that confront us in life. We assess each situation, deciding whether something is a threat, how we can deal with it and what resources we can use. If we conclude that the required resources needed to effectively deal with a situation are beyond what we have available, we say that that situation is stressful - and we react with a classical stress response. On the other hand, if we decide our available resources and skills are more than enough to deal with a situation, it is not seen as stressful to us.
We all respond differently to a given situation for three main reasons
    1. We do not all interpret each situation in the same way. 2. Because of this, we do not all call on the same resources for each situation 3. We do not all have the same resources and skills.
Some situations which are not negative ones may still be perceived as stressful. This is because we think we are not completely prepared to cope with them effectively. Examples being: having a baby, moving to a nicer house, and being promoted. Having a baby is usually a wonderful thing, so is being promoted or moving to a nicer house. But, moving house is a well-known source of stress.

It is important to learn that what matters more than the event itself is usually our thoughts about the event when we are trying to manage stress. How you see that stressful event will be the largest single factor that impacts on your physical and mental health. Your interpretation of events and challenges in life may decide whether they are invigorating or harmful for you.

A persistently negative response to challenges will eventually have a negative effect on your health and happiness. Experts say people who tend to perceive things negatively need to understand themselves and their reactions to stress-provoking situations better. Then they can learn to manage stress more successfully.

Some of the effects of stress on your body, your thoughts and feelings, and on your behavior:

Effect on your body Effect on your thoughts and feelings
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Feeling of insecurity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Problem concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
Effect on your behavior
  • Eating too much
  • Eating too little
  • Food cravings
  • Sudden angry outbursts
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Higher tobacco consumption
  • Social withdrawal
  • Frequent crying
  • Relationship problems

What are the causes of stress?

We all react differently to stressful situations. What one person finds stressful another may not at all. Almost anything can cause stress and it has different triggers. For some people, on some occasions, just thinking about something, or several small things that accumulate, can cause stress.

The most common causes of stress are:
  • Bereavement
  • Family problems
  • Financial matters
  • Illness
  • Job issues
  • Lack of time
  • Moving home
  • Relationships (including divorce)
The following are also causes of stress
  • Abortion
  • Becoming a mother or a father
  • Conflicts in the workplace
  • Driving in bad traffic
  • Fear of crime
  • Losing your job
  • Miscarriage
  • Noisy neighbors
  • Overcrowding
  • Pollution
  • Pregnancy
  • Retirement
  • Too much noise
  • Uncertainty (awaiting laboratory test results, academic exam results, job interview results, etc)
It is possible that a person feels stressed and no clear cause is identified. A feeling of frustration, anxiety and depression can make some people feel stressed more easily than others.

Diagnosis of stress

A good primary care physician (GP - General Practitioner) should be able to diagnose stress based on the patient's symptoms alone. Some doctors may wish to run some tests, such as a blood or urine, or a health assessment.

The diagnosis of stress depends on many factors and is complex, say experts. A wide range of approaches to stress diagnosis have been used by health care professionals, such as the use of questionnaires, biochemical measures, and physiological techniques. Experts add that the majority of these methods are subject to experimental error and should be viewed with caution. The most practicable way to diagnose stress and its effects on a person is through a comprehensive, stress-oriented, face-to-face interview.

How to deal with stress

There are three broad methods you can follow to treat stress, they include self-help, self management, and medication.

Self help for treating stress
    Exercise - exercise has been proven to have a beneficial effect on a person's mental and physical state. For many people exercise is an extremely effective stress buster. Division of labor - try to delegate your responsibilities at work, or share them. If you make yourself indispensable the likelihood of your feeling highly stressed is significantly greater. Assertiveness - don't say yes to everything. If you can't do something well, or if something is not your responsibility, try to seek ways of not agreeing to do them. Alcohol and drugs - alcohol and drugs will not help you manage your stress better. Either stop consuming them completely, or cut down. Caffeine - if your consumption of coffee and other drinks which contain caffeine is high, cut down. Nutrition - eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Make sure you have a healthy and balanced diet. Time - make sure you set aside some time each day just for yourself. Use that time to organize your life, relax, and pursue your own interests. Breathing - there are some effective breathing techniques which will slow down your system and help you relax. Talk - talk to you family, friends, work colleagues and your boss. Express your thoughts and worries. Seek professional help - if the stress is affecting the way you function; go and see your doctor. Heightened stress for prolonged periods can be bad for your physical and mental health. Relaxation techniques - mediation, massage, or yoga have been known to greatly help people with stress.

Stress management techniques

Stress management can help you to either remove or change the source of stress, alter the way you view a stressful event, lower the impact that stress might have on your body, and teach you alternative ways of coping. Stress management therapy will have the objective of pursuing one or more of these approaches.

Stress management techniques can be gained if you read self-help books, or attend a stress management course. You can also seek the help of a counselor or psychotherapist for personal development or therapy sessions.

Many therapies which help you relax, such as aromatherapy, or reflexology, may have a beneficial effect.

 

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