Everyone faces stress from time to time, it’s a natural part of life. However, long-term, unmanaged, and overwhelming stress can build up and have an adverse impact on an individuals health. Taking steps to reduce, manage and cope with stress in positive ways can prevent these effects from further developing or occurring all together.
What is stress
Stress is a normal psychological and physical response to the day-to-day demands of life. It is, however, also considered to be a major precipitating factor in almost all major diseases, and in five out of the six leading causes of death(Johnstone & Player, 2019). Studies have revealed in large doses, ongoing stress adversely affects the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and central nervous systems, resulting in instances of cancer, heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory disease(Johnstone & Player, 2019). But what is stress? We now know what it can do to those who experience it in large doses, but what actually is stress?
here are different types of stress, Acute and Chronic stress, each defined by the duration and intensity experienced:
Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It is stress that lasts only for a short period of time such as sitting an exam, starting a new job, giving a speech, or being faced with a work deadline. These are situations where our body usually bounces back and recovers well following the initial stress reaction if the experience is managed well (Amirkhan & Auyeung, 2007; Scallion & Burton, 2015).
Chronic stress on the other hand is stress that continues for a long period of time and does not go away, it is at times crippling stress. Chronic stress occurs in circumstances such as ongoing financial
difficulties, social isolation and loneliness issues, relationship problems, chronic health issues or overworking yourself (Amirkhan & Auyeung, 2007; Scallion & Burton, 2015).
Within psychology, stressas a wholeisdefined asany uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioural changes. It is often described as a feeling of being overwhelmed,overloaded,worried, tense or run-down, and occurs when we face a situation, we feel we can’t cope with. Therefore, stress is a product of our perception of our own ability to cope and deal with particular situations. Common causes or situations associated with high levels of stress include work or school, major life changes, relationship difficulties, and financial problems. These are all situations everyone can relate to and almost everyone has experienced at least once in their life. However, those who possess the tools, coping strategies and positive mindset when it comes to stress are able to handle themselves in these situations without letting stress impact them adversely. Finding ways to adjust your perceptions of your own abilities to cope with particular situations and stressful events can improve your overall ability to handle stress when it comes up in other points throughout your life. It’s about knowing what stresses you out, knowing what stress does to your body and identifying the early warning signs, knowing what to do and applying the appropriate methods to reduce, manage and control your stressful situation.
What stress looks and feels like(signs and symptoms)
Stress expresses itself in numerous ways, with different signs and symptoms for each individual. Common physical, mental and emotional signs and symptoms of stress are shown below.
Simple ways to Stress Less (Managing, relieving and reducing your stressand anxiety)
1.Recognise the signs of stress
Signs of stress vary from person to person, however recognising your own personal signs can help you take positive steps towards effectively managing and reducing your future stress, and ultimately reaching a point in time when you are stressing less. Identify what your signs and symptoms of stress are and when stress is beginning to impact you in either a physical, mental or emotional way.
2.Identify the triggersof your stress
Identifying the triggers of your stress or “stressors”is the first step to doing something about them.Sources of stress or “stressors” can be:
- Financial troubles
- Health worries
- Work difficulties
- Life changing events
- Family issues
- Social problems
- Negative thoughts and beliefs
Identify your own sources of stress, what they are, how frequently they occur and how much they affect your everyday functioning will make you ready to combat your stress in the future. The more information you have about your own sources of stress the better prepared you will be when deciding the appropriate stress reducing strategies, methods and interventions to put in place for the future
3.Apply strategies, methods and interventions to manage, relieve and reduce your stress
Identifying your own sources of stress and knowing how best to deal with them in the future is of vital importance. Once the source of stress is identified you can put in place problem-solving strategies and interventions to reduce the stress. A list of strategies, methods and interventions for managing stress are provided below.
Deep breathing can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response. The aim is to become aware of your breathing rate then slow it back down to a normal soothing rate. Lengthening your out-breath so that its longer than your in-breath,changing the rhythm of your breath to further reduce stress.
The goal of deep breathing is to focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. This process helps slow your heart rate, allowing individuals to feel more peaceful and calmer, even in stressful situations.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
In PMR, an individual tensesup particular muscles such as biceps, forearms or phalanges, and then relax them in a controlled and releasing manner, practisingthis technique consistentlywhen feelings of stress and anxiety occur. The idea is to keep the musclestensed for approximately 5 secondsbefore slowly releasing and relaxing usually repeating this process three to four times or until feeling calm and relaxed. It is usually beneficial to recite a mantra such “Relax” in a soft and calming way as you relax the muscles over and over.
Mindfulness and relaxation focuses on anchoring you to the present moment rather than the negative thoughts one may be having about situations, upcoming events, or simply their stress. These skills can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking that stress and stressful situations often bring. Mindfulness practices in particular have been found to significantly decrease stress when done properly. If practiced regularly and correctly, both can help reduce stress levels by allowing the body and nervous system to settle and readjust to a calm state. These forms of intervention are hard to master and take time and patience, however, when someone masters these they become the master of their own stress by having effective tools to manage their stress whenever it occurs.
Engage in physical exercise regularly
Regular exercise and staying active has been shown to lift your mood and serve as a distraction from your worries, negative and stressful thoughts that feed your stress. Increasing your activity level is one tactic you can easily employ to promote a stress less lifestyle, positivity, a healthy mindset and body helping you to start to feel better. Walking, running, swimming, yoga are particularly effective.
You can handle and manage your stress better when you are as healthy as possible, so eating nutritious and healthy food on a regular basis provides you with the best chance in managing your stress effectively. Whilst processed and convenience fast foods, sugar energy snacks or energy drinks may be easier to access for the stressful individuals with busy schedules, these sorts of saturated carbohydrate foods can worsen symptoms of stress. Alternatively, a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein can help you better cope with your every-day stressors. Eating healthy not only makes your more resilient physically, it also makes you more resilient mentally. When you have a healthy body and a healthy mind you can do anything, especially combat your stressful situations.
Improve your sleep habits
Allowing yourself a good night’s sleep of at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night is a good place to start when looking to tackle your daily stressors more easily. Feeling tired or lacking in sleep can increase stress as you are unable to think rationally. When you are tired, you are less patient and more easily agitated, which can increase stress. You are also less rational when dealing with problem solving situations. Practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve your quality of sleep, which can in turn improve you stress resilience as you are more likely to successfully and appropriately deal and face stressful situations or events you are well rested.
If you ever happen to come across someone who says ‘I don’t get stressed’ their not being completely truthful to you or themselves. What they mean to say is ‘I manage my stress and cope with it in ways I have found effective for me’ which is what people who seem to have a handle on their stress do, they manage and cope effectively with their stress, which ultimately makes them stress less.
(Johnstone & Player, 2019)
Johnstone, M., & Player, M. (2019). Stress Less: Proven Methods To Reduce Stress, Manage Anxiety And Lift Your Mood(1st ed.). Sydney: Pan Macmillian Australia.
Baum, A. (1990). Stress, intrusive imagery, and chronic distress(6th ed., pp. 653-675).
[Emmitsburg, MD]: [National Emergency Training Center].
(Johnstone & Player, 2019)Johnstone, M., & Player, M. (2019). Stress Less: Proven Methods To Reduce Stress, Manage Anxiety And Lift Your Mood(1st ed.). Sydney: Pan Macmillian Australia.(Baum, 1990)Baum, A. (1990). Stress, intrusive imagery, and chronic distress(6th ed., pp. 653-675). [Emmitsburg, MD]: [National Emergency Training Center].(Amirkhan& Auyeung, 2007)
Amirkhan, J., & Auyeung, B. (2007). Coping with stress across the lifespan: Absolute vs. relative changes in strategy. Journal Of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(4), 298-317.
(Scallion & Burton, 2015)
Scallion, L., & Burton, R. (2015). 10 Steps to mastering stress: A lifestyle approach. British Journal Of Psychology, 106(1), 177-178. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12110
(Pietrangelo & Watson, 2019)
Pietrangelo, A., & Watson, S. (2019). The Effects of Stress on Your Body. Retrieved 5 August 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1