What is stress?
Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience good or bad forms of stress from your environment, your body and your thoughts. Stress is any change in the environment that requires your body to react and adjust in response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. This is known as the “fight or flight” stress response.
How can people get stressed out/symptoms of stress?
The factors that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, such as when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.
Common external causes of stress: major life changes, work or school, relationship difficulties, financial problems, being too busy, children and family.
Common internal causes of stress: chronic worry, pessimism, negative self-talk, unrealistic expectations/perfectionism, rigid thinking, lack of flexibility, all-or-nothing attitude.
Personal problems that can cause stress:
- Your health, especially if you have a chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis
- Emotional problems, such as anger you can't express, depression, grief, guilt, or low self-esteem
- Your relationships, such as having problems with your romantic relationship, or feeling a lack of friendships or support in your life
- Major life changes, such as dealing with the death of a parent or spouse, losing your job, getting married, or moving to a new city
- Stress in your family, such as having a child, teen, or other family member who is under stress, or being a caregiver to a family member who is elderly or who has health problems
- Conflicts with your beliefs and values. For example, you may value family life, but you may not be able to spend as much time with your family as you want
How stress affects health:
Stress can be positive – such as a getting a job promotion or being given greater responsibilities – keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Ways to solve or deal with stress:
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include: increased life span, lower levels of distress, better psychological and physical well-being, and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
Examples of positive-self talk:
|"I can't do this."
||"I'll do the best I can."
|"Everything is going wrong."
||"I can handle things if I take one step at a time."
|"I hate it when this happens."
||"I know how to deal with this; I've done it before."
Try some of these ideas to deal with stress:
- Learn better ways to manage your time. You may get more done with less stress if you make a schedule. Think about which things are most important, and do those first.
- Find better ways to cope. Look at how you have been dealing with stress. Be honest about what works and what does not. Think about other things that might work better.
- Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Don’t smoke. Limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Try out new ways of thinking. When you find yourself starting to worry, try to stop the thoughts. Or write down your worries and work on letting go of things you cannot change. Learn to say “no.”
- Speak up. Not being able to talk about your needs and concerns creates stress and can make negative feelings worse. Assertive communication can help you express how you feel in a thoughtful, tactful way.
- Build relationships. The simple act of talking face to face with another human being can release hormones that reduce stress even if you’re still unable to alter the stressful situation. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, learn how to make new friendships.
- Get moving. Regular exercise can lift your mood and help relieve stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration. It can also serve as a distraction to your worries, allowing you to find some quiet time and break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress and anxiety. Try activities such as walking, swimming, martial arts, or dancing where you move both your arms and legs.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress while eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
- Set aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the fight or flight stress response.
- Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by learning how to sleep better.