Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so common that it has become normal way of living. Stress is an every day fact of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In fact, stress is not only desirable it is also essential to life. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. Think of the last time you have to go for an interview or the hours before you set of to play a football match. you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
If you regularly find yourself feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects. Remember when you’re constantly running in acute stress mode, your mind and body pay the price.
In this information guide you can learn more about the following:
- What is stress?
- Effects of Toxic Stress?
- How much stress is too much?
- Causes of Stress
- Signs and Symptoms of Stress overload
- Dealing with Stress
What is stress?
Stress can mean different things to different people. However, it is helpful to start with some definition that will help our minds make sense of the impact that stress can have on our mind, body and behaviours. Stress is a normal physical and emotional response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real (being chased down the road by a robber) or imagined (worrying about something that might happen, results of a blood test) – the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
Lets learn more about the Body’s Stress Response
When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones 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 – preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. In this instance stress is deem helpful. If the body’s stress response is “activated” or “on” constantly then it begins to take its toll on the mind and body.
Function of stress Response
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you.
When working properly, it helps you stay focused, vigorous, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life – giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges.
Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.
Effects of Chronic/Toxic Stress
But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life. This stress can be called Toxic and very damaging to our minds and body.
If one is constantly exposed to stressful situations one’s body does not get enough time to recover to function in a relaxed manner and a person then goes from emergency stress to a state of chronic stress i.e. the body functions in an ongoing tense state/ ongoing knot.
How much stress is too much? Know your own limits?
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people roll with the punches, while others crumble at the slightest obstacle or frustration. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle.
Things that influence your stress tolerance level
- Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the more lonely and isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
- Your sense of control – If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. People who are vulnerable to stress tend to feel like things are out of their control.
- Your attitude and outlook – Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humour, accept that change is a part of life, and believe in a higher power or purpose.
- Your ability to deal with your emotions.You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or afraid. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity.
- Your knowledge and preparation– The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
??Reflection Exercise: Things to ask yourself
Am I in control of stress or is stress controlling me?
- When I feel agitated, do I know how to quickly calm and soothe myself?
- Can I easily let go of my anger?
- Can I turn to others at work to help me calm down and feel better?
- When I come home at night, do I walk in the door feeling alert and relaxed?
- Am I seldom distracted or moody?
- Am I able to recognize upsets that others seem to be experiencing?
- Do I easily turn to friends or family members for a calming influence?
- When my energy is low, do I know how to boost it?
Source: The Language of Emotional Intelligence by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
What are the causes of stress?
The situations and pressures 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.
What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.
Common “External” causes of stress
- Major life changes
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problem
- Being too busy
- Children and family
Life events- the more changes in life, the more prone most of us become to stress. Good events (birth of a baby, getting job, moving to a nicer area) as well as bad events (death of a parent, losing a job, being mugged) can trigger stress. This is due to having to adjust to change. If you have to cope with too much change, stress can result.
Hassles- Many people with stress have a lot of Hassles in their life. A hassle is a problem that is there day after day. It may be quiet small. It may be hard to do much about it. It gnaws away at you. It could be a problem at work, in the home, with the people next door, with debt, coping with illness. These hassles slowly wear you down and stress slowly builds.
Common “Internal” causes of stress
Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated:
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations
- Lack of assertiveness
So, the simple answer is practically anything! It depends on the individual.
For Example: Weddings are usually joyous occasions. For some people, however, they bring a great deal of pressure. All the preparations that have to be made can so weigh them down that they are stressed until the whole thing is over. Others breeze through such preparations and even get a “buzz” out of doing them well. At the opposite end of the scale, funerals are normally sad and traumatic occasions, but with a little help from our friends most of us manage to cope. Unfortunately, some do not.
What’s Stressful For You?
What’s stressful for you may be quite different from what’s stressful to your best friend, your spouse, or the person next door. For example:
- Some people enjoy speaking in public; others are terrified.
- Some people are more productive under deadline pressure; others are miserably tense.
- Some people are eager to help family and friends through difficult times; others find it very stressful.
- Some people feel comfortable complaining about bad service in a restaurant; others find it so difficult to complain that they prefer to suffer in silence.
- Some people may feel that changes at work represent a welcome opportunity; others worry about whether they’ll be able to cope.
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
Each of us experience stress in different ways and we hold stress, tension in different parts of our body. Each individual has own stress sensitive area. When trying to manage stress it is important to recognise our warning signs.
These signs can be divided up into the following categories; Physical, Emotional and How We Act. Take a look at the following list of symptoms and see if you can identify any of your warning signs.
Physical Symptoms- how stress effects the body
- Difficulty sleeping, waking up throughout the night, grinding teeth when asleep and having nightmares.
- Persistent tension headaches, tension in shoulders, neck, back
- Abdominal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, stomach pains and cramps.
- Symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath and deep sighing.
- Bouts of viral and bacterial illnesses
- Loss of libido
- Obesity or weight loss
Emotional Symptoms- how stress effects our feelings and thoughts
- Chronic fatigue or exhaustion, often mistaken for physical fatigue
- Frustration, anger and intolerance
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness
- Depression and negative and suicidal thoughts
- Fixed ways of thinking, which can create problems at home and at work
- Poor decision making
- Impaired short term memory
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
- Drinking too much
- Overeating or under eating
- Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
- Using pills or drugs to relax
- Sleeping too much
- Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
- Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)
I have given you just some of the main changes that take place in the body- there are many others.
Ref: Flagging Stress: Toxic Stress and how to avoid it by Dr Harry Barry