Understanding Stress – Do You Know What Stress Is?
Stress is more than an emotional reaction to something worrying, hurtful, scary or irritating. It is a multitude of physical reactions taking place in your body that need to be kept under control if your long-term health is not to suffer.
We all know what feeling stressed-out means. People are always talking about it. Stress seems to be an accepted part of our everyday lives these days.
It tends to be thought of in a negative way, but it isn’t all bad. Some stress can impact your life in a positive way, such as when you start a new job, get married or have kids.
Understanding stress and how it affects your body is important. But what exactly is stress?
Ask any random group of people and you’ll most likely get a wide and varied list of replies. These will range across, work, relationship, family and health issues, to name a few. But they’ll all tend to be about the causes of stress – the stressors – rather than what stress actually is.
A stressor could be an external event like getting divorced, being involved in an accident, and problems at work or relationship matters. Internal stressors come from your own thoughts such as pessimism, an inability to embrace change or a lack of self-confidence, for instance.
Stress is what happens in your body when these stressors arise.
Whenever you are faced with a stressful situation, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These prepare you for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. This is quite normal. It’s your body’s way of protecting you against a perceived danger – either real or imagined. It energizes you and enables you to focus on the immediate problem.
Whilst the hormone release is a normal response by your body and helps you face the stressful situation, it does disrupt normal body functioning. It puts a strain on your body, which is fine for a short time while the stressor is dealt with. If the situation lasts too long, or if it is repeated regularly, you will feel the symptoms of stress overload, more commonly referred to as chronic stress.
Some of the stress warning signs might include muscle pain that you had not experienced before, chest pain and increased heartbeat, or an upset stomach. You could become irritable, agitated or prone to mood swings and headaches. You could develop anxiety or depression and experience panic attacks. You could gain or lose weight. Your judgement could be affected.
All these symptoms and a lot more, indicate that your body is undergoing strain.
When we react to stress instead of managing it, we put our health at serious risk. It really is a major cause of poor health. Some of the warning signs and symptoms of stress overload can be when the following conditions develop:
• Digestive disorders
• Heart disease – high blood pressure
• Weight gain
.. and that is the short list.
The triggers causing the release of stress hormones will be different for each of us. Sometimes it is external stimuli that set a state of stress in motion. At other times it is our own thinking, our worries and fears and negative thoughts. The reaction to the hormonal activity that happens in our body impacts our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, mental and reproductive systems, no matter what the reason is.
Stress will never disappear from life. After all, not all stress is bad. It’s how we manage the ‘bad’ stress and stop it having an ongoing place in our life that is important. Chronic stress can be life threatening and needs to be treated as quickly as possible.
In order to minimize the negative effects of stress, such as heart attack, stomach disorders and reduced immunity from infection, you must learn to manage it. There are a number of simple, easy to follow activities that you can use, such as:
• Becoming physically active – exercise more
• Paying attention to your diet and good nutrition
• Learning relaxation techniques
• Practicing deep breathing exercises
• Keeping a positive mental attitude
• Having a good night’s sleep – 7 to 8 hours
• Knowing your limitations – not overstretching yourself
• Asking for help when needed
• Learning to say No when you really don’t have the time to assist others
• Ensuring you have some relax time
• Removing the clutter – physical and mental – out of your life
These are effective stress management techniques. They do work. But you have to make them work. When you have a full understanding of stress and what it can do to your physical and mental health you will want to protect your body from the risks and help yourself to lead a happier, healthier and more productive life.
To summarize, stress is a natural way of helping you deal with difficult situations, either good or bad, but it needs to be managed properly. It puts pressure on your body that prevents normal functioning of essential systems and puts your long term health at risk.
Whatever tension or emotion you experience when dealing with a stressful episode, you must learn to control the amount of stress and anxiety that will otherwise damage your health.
Understanding stress is important. It’s not referred to as a ‘silent killer’ for nothing.
In addition to the symptoms shown above, the following are common signs and symptoms of stress:
Appetite changes up & down
Bowel problems – constipation or diarrhea
Clumsiness & minor accidents
Colds and infections become more frequent
Dizziness or feeling faint
Feelings of overwhelm
Insomnia & bad dreams
Irritability & overreactions
Jaw clenching & grinding of teeth
Lack of concentration
Lack of self worth
Loss of interest in appearance
Muscle pain & Spasms
Obsessive compulsive behavior
Tiredness & fatigue
Sexual problems, reduced libido
Skin rashes & itching
Weight gain or loss