WHAT EXACTLY IS STRESS? In simple terms, it is a state of mental, or sometimes emotional, strain or tension.
In most cases, stress and anxiety result from adverse (or very demanding) circumstances.
Stress is most often a physical response or reaction to a stressor. When you feel stressed, your body feels that it is under attack. Thus, it switches to its natural ‘fight or flight’ mode.
Of course, there is also a scientific explanation of what happens when you get overstressed.
When you are stressing out the body releases a complex combination of hormones and chemicals. These include adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. The hormonal response is the body’s way of preparing for physical action.
Effects of Pressure and Stress
Most people will accept that experiencing some levels of stress in life – is ‘normal’. But, being on the wrong end of a stress overdose can make you feel depressed or anxious. As a rule, too much stress is one of the most severe mental health issues that need addressing.
The unwanted feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure is bad for your general health and wellbeing. Worse still, it can lead to a desperate feeling of being unable to cope with life and its pressures.
It then becomes increasingly difficult to deal with the daily demands and external pressures in our lives. Typical examples include money worries and the needs of your children. Often, people who are ‘stressed out’ will suffer with relationship issues or concerns about their workload.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress
- Aches and pains often with tense muscles
- Acne (a visible sign when stress manifests itself)
- Chronic pain
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent colds, sickness, and infections
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sexual desire (changes in libido and ability)
- Low energy (decreased levels)
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
- Upset stomach (e.g. digestive issues, diarrhoea, constipation, and nausea)
Note: Suffering from work related stress can also make you feel depressed or anxious. You should discuss any work stress issues it with your employer.
How it Feels to be Stressed
Feeling stressed usually means you feel anxious, worried, and irritable. You might have a sense of low self-esteem with racing thoughts rushing through your mind.
Even so, people react to stress and anxiety in many different ways. It is strange in some ways, but a stressful situation can often be a motivating experience. For example, athletes manage stress better than most people and use it to ‘focus’ on the goal of winning.
In fact, stress does not belong with any of the common diseases and it is not an illness itself per se. Yet, along with anxiety and depression, it can lead to serious illness if it does not get addressed and managed.
Note: The most severe cases of stress can lead to complete burnout. As a rule, the outcome is extreme emotional and physical exhaustion.
Practical Steps for Dealing with Stress
- Try to accept that human beings cannot control everything. Thus, put your feeling of stress and anxiety into perspective. Is the stressor as bad or as threatening as you may think?
- Aim to do your best instead of aiming for complete perfection. In reality, perfection is rarely possible. Be proud of getting close – it should be enough!
- Do your best to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. Make a practical effort to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and action.
- Learning what triggers your anxiety will help. Is the trigger work related, school problems, parenting, or something else? Writing a journal when you feel stressed or anxious will help to identify a pattern.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine can aggravate anxiety and can trigger panic attacks. Drinking water is better for general health and wellness.
- Eating well-balanced meals can you manage stress and anxiety in life. It is important not to skip any meals. Always keep a few healthy, energy-boosting snacks close at hand in case you feel the urge to snack.
- Getting enough sleep should be a priority when stressed. The body needs extra sleep and rest to recover from stressful situations. As a rule, try to get at least eight (8) hours of sleep each day.
- Daily exercising can help you feel a good mood and maintain your overall health. In fact, brisk walking can help prevent heart disease and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Take deep breaths, making slow inhalations and exhalations as often as you can. Try to inhale and exhale even slower during the times when you are feeling the most stressed.
- Learn how to relax (e.g. listen to soothing music or get the benefits of walking exercise). Taking some steps to unwind can help stop the stress triggers building up.
- Count to 10 using a slow counting method. Repeat it, and then count to 20 if you need to. Try ‘box breathing’ as a technique to take in slow and deep breaths.
- Eat healthy foods. It is important to eat well during periods of high stress. Healthy eating can have a positive effect on mental health and emotional wellbeing.
- Give something back to the local community. Try a volunteering role or find some way to be active in your community. Doing so can create a support network and give you a welcome break from everyday stress.
- Take some time out for yourself. You could listen to your favourite music or meditate. Practice some basic yoga techniques or get a massage. Learning relaxation techniques help you step back from a problem and clear your head.
- Take a stroll, get out with your kids or with some friends, or take your pet animal for a walk.
- Seek expert help online if you struggle with stress and anxiety in life. You might consider taking a mental health screen, such as for depression or bipolar disorder. Health screening is anonymous, often free, and a private way to learn about your mental health.
- Use a ‘hands on’ approach to work through your problems. Taking positive steps to deal with a problem, one at a time, can make you better able to cope with them.
- Never hesitate to talk to someone, such as a family member or a trusted friend. Tell them you are feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Try talking to your physician or a therapist for professional help. Talking about your feelings helps to identify what is causing the stress and anxiety.
Note: The key to managing stress and anxiety is taking positive action ‘before’ the triggers start to affect your health and your wellbeing.