Everyone experiences stress. Recognizing where it comes from and finding positive ways to deal it with enhances our mental health.
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We all experience some form of stress, but what is it? There are many definitions, whether biochemical, psychosocial, or physiological, but the definition proposed by Bruce McEwen and Jaap Koolhaas in this article best encompasses what it is at the very basic level:
Stress refers to “conditions where an environmental demand exceeds the natural regulatory capacity of an organism.”
When we experience great pressure and strain on our bodies (physical, mental, or emotional), we are reacting to environmental stressors that are beyond our control or ability.
In some cases, this can be a positive thing — it is our body’s way of reacting to challenges and motivates us to perform well at tasks such as tests or job interviews. On the other side of the coin, if we allow ourselves to be overpowered by these stressors, our response could turn to worsening health complications, such as anxiety, hypertension, and gastrointestinal problems, to name a few.
Types of Stress
There are four different types of stress: eustress, distress, acute stress, and chronic stress.
1. Eustress is considered “positive” or “good” stress, such as a promotion, graduation, or marriage.
2. Distress, which is when a stress is considered a threat to one’s well-being or quality of life. This is our common definition for what we experience as negative stress. Divorces, injuries, and financial or work problems are examples that cause distress.
3. Acute stress refers to short-term stress that we respond with “fight or flight.”
4. Chronic stress is ongoing and unmanageable stress, that, if left uncontrolled, could damage us physically and mentally.
Types of Stressors
With as many types of stress, its origin is just as diverse. Here are some of the most common types of stressors.
- Health, especially if living with a chronic illness or disability.
- Emotional problems, such as anger, grief, or guilt, or depression and low self-esteem.
- Relationships, if you are having problematic relationships and do not feel you have a support system in your life.
- Major life changes such as dealing with the death of a loved one, getting married, or moving to a new city.
- Stress in your family, where another family member may be experiencing stress.
- Your surroundings, such as living in an area where overcrowding, crime, pollution, or noise is a problem can create chronic stress.
- Work, for example, being unhappy with your it or finding your job too demanding, losing your job or not being able to find work. Practice Workplace Wellness!
- Economic, like not having the finances to cover your expenses.
- Social situations such as feeling lonely, overwhelmed by choices, or facing discrimination based on your race, gender, age, or sexual orientation; and/or having low levels of social support.
As you can see, no one is exempt of going through the aforementioned kinds of situations, and that’s why stress is so common.
Signs of stress
When we are stressed we can experience the following:
- Rising blood pressure
- Rapid breathing or heartbeat
- Back pain, stiff neck or tight shoulders; tense muscles
- Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhaea
- Excessive sweating
Types of Coping Responses
We all cope with stress differently, and not all types of coping strategies work for everyone. We must first identify the stressors that are causing us distress, and recognize if our coping response is positive, or detrimental to our health and our surroundings.
Negative coping responses
Negative coping strategies can wear us down, or are not very effective for the long term.
- Criticizing yourself (negative self-talk)
- Driving fast in a car
- Chewing your fingernails
- Becoming aggressive or violent (hitting someone, throwing or kicking something)
- Eating too much or too little or drinking a lot of coffee
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Drinking alcohol
- Yelling at your spouse, children, or friends
Positive coping responses
Positive coping strategies help mitigate the risks associated with experiencing stress.
- Listening to music
- Playing with a pet
- Laughing or crying
- Going out with a friend
- Taking a bath or shower
- Writing, painting, or doing other creative activities
- Exercising or getting outdoors to enjoy nature
- Discussing situations with a spouse or close friend
- Gardening or making home repairs
- Practicing self-care, deep breathing, meditation, or muscle relaxation
- Making and following through with an action plan to solve your problems
- Seeking support or counseling if you continue to struggle with stress
When dealing with stress, it helps to build strong relationships with the people around us, who can provide a solid support system especially during times of great distress. If these people are the stressors themselves, it’s better to find ways to remove yourself from a situation where you have to interact with them.
Stress puts a lot of pressure on our minds if we are constantly thinking about it. In fact, a lot of us suffer from insomnia because of a heightened sense of alertness from the effects of stress. It might help to rest your mind by taking mental breaks, practicing mindfulness or awareness of your surroundings to give you an opportunity for respite.
Stress is a normal part of life, and we all experience and cope with stress differently. But know when the stress is too much for you to handle, and find what strategies work best (and don’t work at all) for you. Lastly, always remember to ask for help when you need it.
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