What is stress?
Many of us have a different definition of stress. Basically, stress is a natural response to pressure when we face a challenging or dangerous situation. Experiencing stress is part of being human, and some stress helps increase our alertness and energy to meet and face these situations. This stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, triggers numerous changes that are not necessarily wanted or expected. Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Contrary to the common belief, stress is not the pressure from the outside (divorce, vacation planning, isolation); those are stressors. It is your response to those situations that constitutes stress.
Not all stress is bad. Although people can only see a negative impact of stress, it can also stimulate you in a positive way so that it adds a certain challenge in your life. We will elaborate on some of the causes of stress and what impact they have on health later in the text.
Can stress be positive?
Are all kinds of stress bad? The answer is no. Some stress can be stimulating and can even be essential for your health. Just like exercise benefits your bones and muscles, stress can stimulate you to keep you mentally alert and help you avoid senility. Some healing therapies will voluntarily apply a positive “stressor” to assist healing. For example, a new diet for a patient trying to lose weight might seem at first as stressful, but in the end, it will only do him good for both his mental and physical health. Besides, life without any stress would be rather boring and unchallenging. As mentioned before, stress is part of being human, so it should not only be viewed as negative. It is important to mention that not all stress is good for your health, and you should always be aware of what the causes are and their impacts on your life.
What causes stress?
Stress results from situations that put high demands on you but don’t give you much control over how you’re going to meet those demands. Stress can be caused by both external and internal factors. By external factors, we mean major life events, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce in which we are directly involved, legal problems, and other major life problems. Everyone will have his or her own definition of problems. Other external factors include a lack of sleep, arguments, traffic jams going to work, excess noise, time pressure, problems with children, gossip, difficult neighbors, low social support, unemployment, health worries, and many other little factors.
Furthermore, our internal beliefs, attitudes, interpretations, perceptions, and other factors, combined with the external events will tend to create stress. These internal factors include our expectations, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and personality. Not all factors will affect a person in the same way it affects someone else.
We should never forget factors that we might not realize but affect our level of stress by directly targeting the body’s condition and health. Here is a list of some physical factors that we should consider:
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
- Alcohol misuse
- Chronic Pain
- Pollution (polluted air/water)
- Weather change (wind, rain, snow…)
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
So how do you know when you experience stress, and what are the symptoms on your mind and body? Here is a table identifying the four major signs and symptoms that a person could experience due to stress:
- Cognitive symptoms
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Physical symptoms
- Aches and pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds
- Emotional symptoms
- Irritability or short temper
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of loneliness
- Behavioral symptoms
- Eating more or less than normal
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes or even drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (chewing lips, nail-biting)
How to manage stress?
Identify the source and problems in your life that may influence your stress level and think of a way of solving them (both internal and external factors).
- Exercise regularly. A healthy body will naturally deal with stress much more easily. In the same way, lose your bad habits that will only add more stress in your life (smoking, drinking, compulsive behaviors).
- Eat healthy and well-balanced meals. Avoid foods that can add more stress, indirectly into your body (such as coffee or sodas containing caffeine, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate).
- Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs to recover from stressful events and a fully rested body is more set to face the challenges in your everyday life.
- Accept that there are events that you can’t control and always try to keep a positive attitude.
- Take time for yourself and do the little things you enjoy in life. A healthy mind and body can only do you good.
- Talk to a friend or a specialist about your problems. Talking about your problems can be the first step to relieve your everyday stress.
- Seek medical assistance. A high level of stress for prolonged periods can be bad for your physical and mental health.
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