Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense. It can also be difficulties that cause worry. There are two basic types: acute stress or chronic stress. Acute stress is short-term; it is the body’s response to something that seems dangerous. Examples would be accidents or near-misses. Chronic stress is something to continues for long periods, like stressful situations or events. A separation or a bad work situation would probably result in chronic stress. When you are stressed, your body goes reacts as if it is under attack or in danger – this is the fight-or-flight response. It causes your body to produce hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy.
It is entirely possible to exhibit symptoms of stress and think that you are simply sick. Symptoms of stress are numerous and vary from person to person. There are physical symptoms such as headache, heart palpitations, chest pain, stiff neck, and back pain, as well as upset stomach and nausea. Note that some of those symptoms are indeed symptoms of other issues and may need the attention of a doctor – chest pain, in particular! Other symptoms are emotional: anxiety, lack of focus, depression, sadness, anger, restlessness, feeling insecure and irritablity. Burnout is also a symptom of stress. You may also exhibit behavioral symptoms, which may include changes in eating patterns (either more or less), drug or alcohol abuse, social withdrawal, crying spells, and relationship conflicts. It is important to pay attention to what your body is telling you! If you ignore high levels of stress, you can truly make yourself sick.
And that brings us to the effects of stress – which are numerous and can be serious. It can affect your immune system, literally making you more likely to get sick – and to get sick more often. If you have a chronic illness, it can make those symptoms worse. It can make skin problems like acne and psoriasis worse. It can cause nagging headaches, forgetfulness, and decreased productivity at work. You may feel tired all the time, irritable, and may be quicker to lose your temper.
Who is most susceptible to stress? People without strong support netowkrs, those who are poorly nourished, and people who don’t get enough sleep. Other groups that show a higher liklihood of suffering from the effects of stress include those with chronic illnesses, children, teens, working parents, and seniors. Many of these groups have stressors that tend to be related to life transitions such as more and more responsibility, the change from not having children to having children, and retirement and growing health issues.
Speaking of stressors – what causes such levels of stress? Well, stressors can be either pleasant or unpleasant events. Both sets can cause tremendous levels of stress. For example, significant life adjustments like marriage, divorce, separation, birth of children, and gradation are all sources of stress, even if some of them are happy occasions. Buying a house is another example – it is a happy event, but the paperwork, the legal documents, the move are all stressful. Stress can also come from daily routines: sitting in traffic, getting the children up and ready for school in time for the bus, deadlines at work, and running kids back and forth to after-school events can all cause stress. Unrealistic self-expectations – like expecting perfection – can certainly be stressful. Interpersonal relationships, including both work/social relationships and personal relationships, can cause a lot of stress. Common stressors include balancing work and family, anger management, legal issues, financial problems, health issues, family problems, addictions, caring for an elderly relative, school, and career changes.
Now, how do you deal with all of this stress? First of all, if you are showing physical symptoms, if you are depressed, please seek help. There is NOTHING wrong with getting help when you are struggling. Talk to someone, a friend, a relative, a doctor. Secondly, take a look at what is causing your stress. Is it long-term? Is it short-term? Look at the problem you are facing and break it down into smaller, more easily faced parts. Brainstorm ways to fix the problem or to make it simpler. Other ideas for dealing with stress or getting a little relief include:
- Take a 15-minute break from what is stressing you. Walk a way and come back to it when you are calmer.
- Write out what is worrying you and set it aside for 15 minutes.
- Look at the worst-case scenario. If that happened, how bad would it really be? How likely is it to really happen?
- Sit outside in the fresh air and sunshine for a short period – about 15 minutes.
- Read something funny.
- Delegate when you can – ask for help. People who care about you frequently want to help.
- Are you stressed because you are too busy or are overcommitted? Well, look at changes you can make. Decline some of the requests. Set aside time for yourself and your family.
- Set aside 10 minutes when you walk in the door in the evening to unwind before jumping into housework and household routines.
- Declutter – clutter can cause stress. Clean up in small increments: one area at a time.
- Look at what really needs to be done and prioritize.
- Ask yourself, “In 100 years, how important will this be?”
- Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation. If not, why worry? Let it go. If you CAN do something, then DO it instead of worrying!
- Talk to someone! Get advice – or simply talk. You may want to let your friend/listener know if you simply need to vent.
- Help someone else – it will help take your mind off of things.
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. It helps you deal with things better and stay calmer – and it helps you stay healthy!
- Watch your favorite movie or read your favorite book – use it as an escape for a little while.
- Before you make a major change, weigh the pros and cons.
- If you’ve made a mistake, look at what you can do to fix it. If you can’t, apologize if appropriate and look at ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Then let it go.
- Take a deep breath and count to 10 before reacting.
- If you are stuck regarding a specific issue, put it aside and move on. Think about, or work on, something else and give your subconscious time to work. You’d be surprised at how often you’ll get an idea when you are least expecting it.
- Focus on positive achievements, positive changes, and surround yourself with positive people.
- Cut back on caffiene – it will help you feel less on edge.
- Learn to allow yourself an extra 10 minutes to get places.
- Get up 10 – 15 minutes earlier in the morning to make your morning less harried.
Websites that I found helpful
My sources of information
- Sources of stress: http://ohp.nasa.gov/cope/stress_sources.htm