What is Stress?
Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that differs from person to person. Generally it can be defined as the degree when one feels overwhelmed or unable to cope with the current situation. Stress is extremely common and can affect anyone at any age.
Research has shown that more than three-quarters of adults report physical symptoms of stress, including headache, tiredness, or sleeping problems. At times, stress response does provide positive effects as it can help us to push through difficult situations as long as it does not become excessive or too much to deal with. We will be discussing the possible causes of stress and its positive and negative impact on our mental and physical health in this post.
What are the signs of stress?
Stress isn’t technically a disease, although it can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental and physical health. During stressful situations, our body will release various stress hormones that will adjust our heart rate, breathing, vision and more to prepare our body to cope with a fight-or-flight response. This is called the stress response. When stress response is activated for a long period due to chronic stress, it will cause wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms will develop.
Some common physical symptoms of stress include:
- Chest pain with a racing heart
- Headaches, dizziness and trembling
- Unexplained pains and aches
- Having trouble sleeping and feeling exhausted
- High blood pressure
- Problems with digestion
- Falling sick often with a weak immune system
Stress can also lead to emotional symptoms, such as:
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Sadness and depression
- Having episodes of panic attacks
People constantly suffering from stressful situations might also develope certain unhealthy behavior such as:
- Excessive drinking
- Overeating or eating disorder
- Drugs or substances abuse
What are the types of stress?
There are many types of stress. Some can be a short-term while some are long-term problems, depending on what changes your life. The three main types of stress are:
Acute stress is relatively common and can happen to anyone. It can be caused by many things such as losing a loved one or being in an accident. People may also feel acute stress when they are having enjoyable moments such as preparing for an interview, trying out new things or anticipating new events in life such as moving a house or getting married.
Due to its short duration, acute stress normally does not have serious consequences on our physical and mental health. However they may show signs and symptoms such as:
- Having distressing thoughts, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks of the event
- Trying to avoid people, places or things that will remind them of that stressful event
- Having difficulties to focus on details and paying attention
- Feeling of restlessness and anxiety
Episodic acute stress
Episodic acute stress happens when acute stress is experienced more frequently on a regular basis. Although one may suffer more frequently than an acute stress, episodic stress is not continual and will stop from time to time. This type of stress is experienced most commonly in people who are naturally anxious, irritable or short-tempered. It is also often seen in people who make unrealistic or unreasonable demands of themselves, causing them stress while attempting to achieve their goals.
There are several reasons on why and when this may happen:
- Regular presentations at work
- Taking up too much responsibilities and feeling overwhelmed
- Having to visit doctors very often due to a medical condition
- Being responsible for loved ones with recurring challenges & problems
When your stress level is high for an extended period of time or keeps coming back, you are experiencing chronic stress. Chronic stress is ongoing stress with no or limited relief, and normally experienced by people or carers dealing with prolonged health issues or disabilities. Chronic stress also affects people who:
- Have ongoing financial difficulties
- Are victims of abuse
- Experiencing discrimination
- Has low self-esteem
- Has limited support and social network
Long term stress has negative impact on health, such as:
- Having anxiety or depression
- Having hypertension and type 2 diabetes
- Higher risk of stroke and heart attack
- Weakened immune system, which will increase risk of infection
Sometimes, it is also possible to develop and be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a stressful event or a series of stressful events. Although most people will be able to cope and adjust their life back after a period of time, people with PTSD will suffer the symptoms for months, even years, and the symptoms might even get worse. This will interfere with their day-to-day life, and will require professional help.
What is the physiological impact of stress?
Besides affecting your body mentally, stress may cause other physiological impacts that affect our physical health, especially chronic stress.
Some physiological health conditions from chronic stress could be:
- High blood pressure, diabetes and heart diseases
- Addiction to alcohol, nicotine or certain drugs
- Hair loss
- Obesity or weight gain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Digestion problems
Is there any positive impact of stress?
Not all types of stress are harmful and negative. Manageable stress increases our alertness and performance. Research has shown that a small amount of stress is needed and they are good to push us to a level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.
Positive stress or eustress, although fairly new to all of us, is the type of stress response that we feel when we are excited. It helps us stay motivated, work towards our goal and makes us feel good about life. Examples of positive stress includes:
- Going on a first date
- Trying out a new activity or new exercise
- Going for an interview or getting promoted at a job
- Taking on a new project or learning something new
- Sitting for an examination
What are the common triggers of stress?
Frequently the source of stress is rooted in changes. The cause and triggers can be different for everybody, but the common life problems or situation that may be stressful for individuals are:
- Financial problems
- Changing job
- Moving house or relocate to another country
- Relationship problems with one or a few members in the family
- Undergoing a breakup or divorce
- Recent traumatic events such as the death of a family member
- Having chronic illness or injury, or being a carer of a person with chronic illness
Stress is not only caused by big important events. It might be a build-up of a lot of smaller things as well, such as:
- Having overwhelming responsibilities
- Going through a period of uncertainties in life
- Not having control over the outcome of a situation
- Being bullied in school or discriminated at work
How to keep your stress levels healthy?
Since avoiding stress is inevitable, we should learn how to manage stressful situations. These activities may help us to relax and cope with our stress level:
- Take care of your body by eating healthy food, with lots of essential nutrients. If getting enough nutrients is not manageable due to time, consider supplementation as some vitamins or minerals may help with balancing your moods
- Try and exercise regularly, even if it means taking a short walk out in nature as moving your body has many benefits for your mental and emotional wellness.
- Connect with friends and family, and share with them your concerns and how you feel, whenever necessary, and get advice if you need
- Make time for yourself and doing activities that you enjoy most such as reading a book, watching a movie or even just lying in bed
- Practice relaxation technique such as deep, slow breathing and yoga to help with muscle relaxation and self awareness
Although there are some positive impacts of stress, learning how to manage our stress is important to lessen the impact of stress to our health. Do not be afraid to seek professional help from your doctor if you ever experience physical or emotional stress that affect your day-to-day activities.
- Robert Sanders, M. relations| A. 16, & Sanders, R. (2015, July 9). Researchers find out why some stress is good for you. Berkeley News. Retrieved November 5, 2022, from https://news.berkeley.edu/2013/04/16/researchers-find-out-why-some-stress-is-good-for-you/
- Stress: Signs, symptoms, management & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress