We all experience stress at some point, but what you find stressful may be different from what someone else finds stressful. For some people, stressful situations are part of their daily routine, while for others, the frequency is lower. Some people become numb at the thought of stress, while others find it thrilling.
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to a change that requires response or adjustment. It is how your body and brain respond to demands such as work, school, exercise, traumatic events, or significant life changes. Your body reacts to the changes with mental, emotional, and physical responses. Stress can be from a situation in your environment, thoughts, or body that stimulates a specific biological reaction.
Stress triggers a fight or flight reaction to enable you to either fight the stressors or flee from them. When you recognize a significant challenge or threat, your body responds by producing a chemical and hormone surge. Stress does not only occur in adverse situations. Your body responds to positive changes by providing biochemical processes that release happiness hormones.
Typically, stress should only be temporary, and your body should relax after the response. Your muscles should loosen up, and both your breathing and heart rate should slow down. Your body should revert to its natural processes without experiencing permanent harmful effects.
Contrary to what many people believe, stress is not always bad for you. It can be beneficial when it helps you meet strict deadlines, avoid accidents, or maintain sanity in chaotic situations. However, prolonged, frequent, or severe stress can, in the long run, affect your mental and physical health negatively. You must, therefore, pay close attention to how you respond to major and minor stress occurrences so that you can know when to seek professional help.
The Similarities Between Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety often overlap, but they are distinct conditions with several similarities.
· Both are internal warning mechanisms that alert your body to danger or, change, and prepare it for the fight or flight response.
· They are natural body reactions, but they can impact the body negatively if they last too long
· They produce similar physical symptoms such as body aches, insomnia, high blood pressure, tension, and uneasiness.
· At manageable levels, both stress and anxiety are beneficial because they motivate you to finish tasks faster.
The Physiological and Psychological Impacts of Stress
Extended periods of stress can chronically activate your body’s natural response to stress and affect your body negatively.
The physical effects of stress include:
· High blood pressure
· Increased risk of a heart attack or stroke
· Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
· Fertility problems
· Irregular or absent periods
· Weak immune system
· Tension-related backaches and headaches
· Erectile dysfunction or impotence
Stress can also cause psychological problems, such as:
· Worry and anxiety
· Substance abuse and addiction
· Eating disorders
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Persistent stress wears down your body’s natural defences and leads to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Similar to how each individual has different stressors, symptoms of stress also vary. While you may not experience all of them, you must understand the most common warning signs of extreme stress.
Physical signs of severe stress include:
· General pains and aches
· A racing heart
· Insomnia or oversleeping
· Cold and sweaty palms
· Clenched jaws or grinding teeth
· Muscle tension or strain on the shoulders, neck or face
· High blood pressure
· Weight loss or gain
· Acid reflux and indigestion problems
· Stomach upsets or diarrhea
· A loss of or an increase in appetite
· Decreased sex drive
Emotional symptoms of severe stress include:
· Lack of motivation
· Sadness or depression
· Feeling a disconnection from reality
· Poor concentration and difficulty in making decisions
Benefits of Therapy for Stress
The basis for stress therapy is the assumption that it does not only arise from life’s events. It also stems from your thoughts about the occurrences. Whether the stress is only causing unpleasant feelings or something more serious like an anxiety or mood disorder, therapy is an effective treatment method. It will significantly reduce your symptoms of stress as well as avoiding mental illness. Talking to a therapist will help you to:
· Get to the root of your problem and attempt to find ways of dealing with it. A therapist will understand your fears, anxieties, and concerns; therefore, talking to one will help relieve feelings of loneliness and stress. They will also seek to understand your emotions instead of allowing you to vent about your emotions.
· Discovering the underlying problem: The therapist will allow and guide you to determine your underlying issue. They will offer a non-judgmental space where you can explore and deal with the issue on your own. This space enhances confidence, self-efficacy, and self-worth, which alleviate stress.
· Through therapy, you will learn how to identify and replace negative thoughts and apply varying tools to help you switch to positive self-talk. To relieve stress, you learn to be a bit lenient with yourself and that you can release some of your burdens without feeling like a failure.
· Alternative forms of therapy, such as acupuncture, yoga, and massage are some of the activities that you can do to reduce stress. They are useful tools in managing pressure and intense emotions that often accompany stress.
Tips for Reducing Stress
Eliminating stress from your life is impossible. However, there are some healthy habits that you can practice to avoid or manage it. Some stress management strategies that also have health benefits include:
· Regular physical exercise: Consistent physical activity will trigger your body to produce endorphins, the mood-boosting chemicals that help reduce stress. Examples of physical exercise are working out, playing sports, running, cycling, or walking.
· Mindful meditation: Mindfulness will gently develop your inner strength such that future stressors impact less on your physical well-being and happiness. It will also help change your attitude toward stress. Rather than focusing on the negative consequences of stress, mindfulness will provide space for you to concentrate on the stress itself. You will be able to observe how increased pressure energizes you and produces positive effects on your mind and body.
· Identifying triggers and understanding the symptoms: Avoiding stress triggers is not always possible. However, recognizing specific triggers will help you to develop management strategies and coping mechanisms. Also, being aware of your symptoms equips you to manage them better.
· Seeking social support: Your family, friends, or co-workers will motivate you to take action and provide the emotional support you need. Reach out to somebody you trust before your stress level escalates. Expressing your concerns and sharing your feelings will help reduce the symptoms of stress.
· Regular, well-balanced meals: Proper nutrition is key to stress management. Skipping meals will lower your blood sugar and depress your mood. It also has the potential to trigger intense frustration and anger.
· Deep breathing: Deep breathing is a powerful relaxation technique that focuses on cleansing your breath. It is a fast way to manage stress levels, easy to learn, and you can practice it anywhere. It involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling through your mouth. This form of belly breathing will stimulate your vagus nerve, which extends from your head down your neck, through your chest to your colon. The breathing technique will set your relaxation response in motion, reduce your blood pressure and heart rate, and ultimately lower your stress levels.
· Yoga and tai chi: Usually, yoga combines deep breathing with a series of stationary and moving poses. It reduces stress and improves strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. In the beginning, you will need an instructor or video tutorials to avoid injuries. After learning the basics, you will be able to practice with others or alone as well as tailor your practice. Almost every yoga class ends in a relaxed posture. However, classes that emphasize gentle stretching, deep breathing, and slow, steady movement will relieve your stress better.
· Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body systematically. As you practice, you will gain familiarity with tension and complete relaxation in various body parts. This awareness will help you respond to the initial signs of muscular tension that indicates stress. Your body will relax and cause your mind also to relax.
· Self-massage: A professional massage eases muscle tension, relieves pain, and reduces stress. Self-massage will give you similar benefits at work or home after a hectic day, between tasks, or before sleep. To improve relaxation, use scented lotion, aromatic oil, or combine it with deep breathing or mindfulness.
· Improving your quality of sleep: Getting poor quality or too little sleep can raise your stress level. You should plan to sleep for at least seven hours each night and set specific sleeping and waking times. Also, avoid intense physical activity, eating, or caffeine a few hours before sleep.
Getting Help From a Professional
If you are chronically feeling stressed, you need to contact a stress specialist. Depending on the symptoms you exhibit, you may either see a therapist, a medical practitioner, or both. The consultant will help you learn how to relieve your stress and live a more enjoyable life. Talk to a qualified medical practitioner who will help you identify stressors and other causes of your symptoms.