Understanding Stress & How to Cope with It
As noted on My Cleveland Clinic, stress is a normal response of the body when a change demanding for an adjustment is taking place. The body can respond to such changes mentally, emotionally, or physically. This is considered to be a normal occurrence in life and it can stem from our body, our thoughts, and our environment. Stress is not just a response to negative changes, but to positive ones as well, for example, childbirth, getting a promotion, getting married, etc.
Unfortunately, as explained on Psychology Today, when stress builds up due to some major life events like losing a loved one or ending a marriage, it will keep on exhausting our inner sources and consequently, we may lose our strength and capacity to cope with it easily. This phase is known as “a breaking point” or stress overload and it can be of physiological and psychological nature. Some of the negative consequences of excessive stress are tiredness, insomnia, frequent headaches, and higher level of stress.
With this in mind, in addition to explaining the major aspects of stress, this article will also present some effective methods that can help people manage chronic stress.
The body defends itself from predators and danger through stress, as explained on Medical News Today. During this process, it supplies the body with chemicals like adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline in order to prepare the system for facing or running away from the threat, which is also known as the “fight or flight mechanism”. The large amount of chemicals leads to elevation in the heart rate, sweating, and higher alertness. The factors that cause this reaction in the body are known as stressors and they can be of different nature. The higher the amount of stressors, the more stress will one go through, as emphasized on Medical News Today.
The Different Types of Stress
According to the APA, there are three distinct types of stress and all of them demand for different levels of coping. Let us look at each of them in detail:
- Acute stress
This is short-term stress and the most common way that stress happens. It is usually triggered by pondering about the pressure from certain upcoming events or demands. To illustrate, this may be an excessive pressure due to an upcoming deadline; this stress usually reduces in strength once the trigger is eliminated or resolved. This type of stress does not damage as it is the case with chronic stress. Some of the most common short-term symptoms are upset stomach, moderate distress, and tension headaches.
- Episodic acute stress
People who often go through acute stress are known to experience episodic acute stress. The most usual symptoms that this type of stress is manifested through, as pointed out on Medical News Today, are irritability, tension, worry, etc. and it has been associated with medical issues like hypertension and heart illness.
- Chronic stress
This is the severest and most damaging type of stress and it can be caused by numerous factors, including poverty, trauma, poor family relations, or an unhappy marriage. It takes place when the individual no longer sees or looks for a solution. When unaddressed, chronic stress may lead to suicide, violent behavior, as well as strokes and heart attacks.
The most Common Symptoms of Chronic Stress
As noted on My Cleveland Clinic, chronic stress is known to weaken the natural defense mechanisms of the body and it is manifested through the following symptoms:
- Teeth grinding
- Recurrent headaches
- Poor digestion
- Higher or lower appetite
- Tension in the neck, face, or shoulders
- Racing heart
- Cold and sweaty palms
- Gain or loss of weight
- Upset stomach
- Sexual problems
Possible Triggers of Stress
Despite the fact that stress is considered to be a normal occurrence in our lives and though it often serves a purpose, like to increase your motivation to get the wanted promotion at work or to help you run the last couple of miles of a marathon, when it becomes chronic, it usually has an adverse effect on one’s health, job, and overall quality of life, as pointed out on Web Md.
One of the main triggers of stress is considered to be work-related and it can stem from the following occurrences:
- Working too many hours
- Being unsatisfied and unhappy with your job
- Poor management skills or no say in the processes of making decisions
- Working in hazardous conditions
- Having to speak in front of your colleagues
- Being harassed or discriminated
- Working in an unsupportive environment
Other types of triggers can stem from one’s personal life and here are the main ones:
- Death of a loved one
- Losing a job
- Divorcing your spouse
- Getting married
- Moving elsewhere
- Being diagnosed with a chronic or debilitating disease
- An injury
- Having emotional issues like low-self esteem, anxiety, depression, etc.
- Having to take care of a sick or elderly member of your family
- A trauma like rape, violence, theft, etc.
In addition to the external causes of stress, it is also crucial to mention the influence of internal triggers in our levels of stress, as noted on Web Md, like things that we tend to worry about a lot. Here are some potential internal stress triggers:
- Uncertainty and fear due to events you feel you have no control over, for example, global warming, presence of toxins chemicals, etc.
- Your attitude and perception, i.e. how you look at the world or a specific situation, i.e. a person who feels like they are doing a good job will feel less stressed about a big upcoming event than the one who considers himself less competent and tends to worry a lot
- Major changes in one’s life, including happy ones like wedding, childbirth, etc.
- Having unrealistic expectations about life; expecting to do everything perfect all the time is known to make you feel stressed whenever things do not happen as you thought they would
The Best Methods for Stress Management
As explained by the APA, chronic stress which is not treated can give rise to serious health complications like hypertension, poor immunity, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, obesity, as well as heart illness. This being said, finding positive and healthy methods to cope with stress as it happens can help avert such negative outcomes.
Since we are all unique in our own way, the methods we choose in order to lower the stress varies, i.e. some may opt for yoga and daily walks in the park whereas others will choose gardening and arts. To better your ability to manage stress, check out these 5 techniques, according to the APA:
- Try meditation
Meditation and mindfulness have the capacity to aid your body and mind to relax and enhance your focus. Meditating, similar to exercise, has been shown to be beneficial for the overall health and any type of mindfulness can help you work on your self-compassion and forgiveness and open up new perspectives.
- Smile and laugh more often
Since our brain is interlinked with our facial expressions and feelings, being under a lot of stress can cause to keep a lot of visible stress on the face. This tension and pressure can be alleviated with the help of laughing or smiling on a more frequent basis.
- Take a break
Often times, though it may seem impossible to take a break from a major stressor in your life like a credit card debt or a crying baby, you should give yourself the much needed permission to take a pause (even a short one) and take care of yourself. This can be helpful to acquire a new perspective on things or to practice a stress-relieving technique and maybe find an adequate solution or an approach to your problem.
- Start working out
Ongoing research shows the immense advantages of regular exercise for the brain and body. Hence, a 20-minute swim or a dance session during stressful times can provide the much needed relaxation.
- Find the right support
Sharing your thoughts and concerns with a close friend, a family member or a professional is known to reduce the negative stress.