Everyone feels stressed out from time to time and that is almost unavoidable because that is just how life works. Stress is a completely normal side effect of the busy lives we lead in this era and world.
You have probably heard about the term before. Many people have. However, when asked to define what stress is, most people don’t know how to answer this. The National Institutes of Health define stress as “the brain’s response to any demand”.
Stress is not always bad for you. Wait what? Come again? You heard me. Stress is not always bad for you. Even when something positive is happening in your life, your body can produce stress.
You might be getting a promotion at work in the near future, you might be getting married or birthing a child. This also causes stress hormones to flow freely in your body. But it’s not bad for you, is it?
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Different types of stress
Okay, so let’s make it clear again. Not all stress is bad for you and I really mean that. But some stress is bad for you. Like this:
Do you remember a time sitting in traffic or on the train, late for an important meeting and you are literally stuck? You can do absolutely nothing except watching those dreadful minutes ticking away.
In a situation like this, the hypothalamus in your brain decides to send out the order: “send in the stress hormones”! When the stress hormones are at their highest, it will trigger your body’s “fight and flight” response.
In short, your heart starts racing faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles are ready for a fight! Does any of this ring a bell? I know I have felt like this several times myself and it is not a very funny feeling, is it? I should say not! The reaction you experience in these situations is completely normal.
However, when this feeling is something you feel day after day, it can and will put your health at great risk. Long-term, as well as short-term, symptoms, will affect many aspects of your body and mental health.
If this is left untreated, it can end up having a negative effect on both your physical and mental health.
The original stress response
The reason why stress is actually good for you is because of our “fight and flight” response. Maybe you have heard of it? When we lived as hunters, we experienced stress when there was a threat to our safety.
Whenever our brain senses a threat, it will send signals to different parts of our body to help cope and deal with it. However, that was then.
In today’s world and society, stress doesn’t necessarily always have to do with actual danger. Our stress response system (fight and flight system) kicks in when we are facing difficult challenges – such as being yelled at by your boss, making the next deadline at work or doing too many things at once.
When are you feeling stressed out/burned out?
It becomes a real problem when we experience too much stress, which is often the case in today’s society. If we experience symptoms for too long and we can’t recover from these symptoms, then we are at an increased risk of various other health problems. Our bodies are not designed for prolonged stress.
Some common symptoms include:
Lack of interest/motivation
Back and shoulder tension
How does stress affect your body and brain?
Long-term stress can affect both your body and brain. It can also affect your physical health.
Having a sudden emotional distress, like anger, can trigger heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, even sudden death. This is mostly for people who already have a known heart disease. However, some people don’t know that they have a problem until they react to stress.
Your brain stress can lead to headaches, problems concentrating and keeping focus. It can also lead to depression because your brain is overwhelmed. This can cause you to become prone to irritability and anger.
Your body might react with infrequent sickness, as stress lowers the functionality of your immune system. Do you often have a cold and are you often feeling unwell? This is a typical sign of stress.
You may also experience muscle tension, muscle aches and pain, and muscle tightness. This is due to increased inflammation in your body. Diarrhea, constipation and bloating are all common signs as well.
What causes stress?
People experience stress differently. It can be a crazy work schedule or an exam period in College. However, stressors can also be positive inputs in your life, such as getting married or having a baby. Stress can also be internal factors. Below are listed a few causes for stress:
Are you unhappy in your current job? Maybe you have an incredibly heavy workload or too much responsibility. Maybe you are working long hours every day. It might be that there is poor management at your job or unclear expectations. Maybe you are facing discrimination or harassment at work and your company simply doesn’t care!
All of these situations can make your symptoms a permanent fixture in your life if you don’t do anything about it.
Maybe someone you loved died. You might be getting a divorce or maybe you have just lost your job. Maybe you are experiencing financial problems or moving to a new home. There is nothing like lots of moving boxes in one place, right?
How can you relieve your symptoms?
Most people can learn to manage stress on their own, but others will need help dealing with it. Especially if you are diagnosed with severe or chronic stress, as I am myself.
I have not been able to deal with this on my own and I am thankful I have finally gotten the help that I have needed for several years. I am not on medication, but I have gotten several tools that I use on a daily basis and this works for me.
But remember, what works for me, might not work for you.
- Trying to keep a positive attitude (however annoying it may be to other people), as it helps you stay positive
- Accepting that there are events that you cannot control
- Being assertive instead of aggressive – it is much healthier to assert your feelings, opinions, and beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive or passive
- Practicing relaxation techniques – I do yoga, meditation, and tai-chi
- Going outside regularly – going for a walk outside helps me calm my mind
- Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
- Managing my time more effectively – I make a lot of to-do lists these days
- Setting limits and saying no to requests that are outside of my limits
- Making sure that I do something I like to do in my spare time
- Getting enough sleep
The most popular stress management books in 2019
“Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen
“When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress” – by Gabor Maté
“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert M. Sapolsky
“The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
“Stress Management For Dummies” by Allen Elkin
“How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie
“The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” by Kelly McGonigal
What causes symptoms depends on the person. Something that you may find stressful may not affect someone else. I am terrified of speaking in front of a crowd, even if they are friends or family, but one of my best friends makes a living out of this. I could never do that.
Whenever he gives a speech he is very much at ease. You may enjoy helping your parents with this and that, while your siblings may find it stressful in their everyday lives. We are all different and we all experience stress in different ways.
Stress can be treated with time and patience. Sometimes with help as well, as it is unlikely that you will be able to treat yourself if you are experiencing severe stress.
If it is not severe or chronic, then you may be able to treat yourself with some self-help books and guides online. There are several natural remedies and ways to help you reduce your stress symptoms. Some of which I will be sharing on this site as well.
What is your experience with stress? I would love to hear your story in the comments below…
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