Stress is no strange thing, especially in today’s world where our lives are overflowing with so many concerns. What is Stress in the first place? Stress is a hormonal response and the body’s way of dealing with or responding to stressors or any kind of threat.
Stressors, simply put are events or situations that can induce or trigger stress. They are actual or perceived threat to an organism. Stressors vary from individual to individual and the environment and socioeconomic factors play a role as well. Stressors may include finances, death of a loved one, divorces, unemployment,ill health, work strain etc.
How the body reacts to these stressors is referred to as the stress response.
The Stress Response:
There’s the activation of the body’s “fight or flight” system when the body encounters a stressor as a result of the mobilization of the sympathetic nervous system which leads to the release of epinephrine and cortisol. This ‘fight or flight’ system helps in fighting off the perceived threat.
Repeated activation of this response can impair both physical and mental health. With chronic stress, there are increased blood levels of cortisol which can contribute to weight gain. Persistent epinephrine levels can also increase blood pressure.
Stress isn’t always bad, sometimes it can be beneficial. Eustress is a ‘positive’ form of stress which enables an individual rise to a challenge. It is short term, motivates and improves performance. It can include: winning a race or a competition, a job promotion, graduation, just to mention a few.
A person’s inability to manage stress can progress to chronic stress and can contribute to clinical depression.
The signs and symptoms of stress can be physical, mental or emotional. Also, stress-related outcomes may vary according to personal and environmental factors.
Emotional and behavioural changes may include: irritability, changes in eating habits (increased or decreased) which can promote weight gain or weight loss. Long term stress can increase the risk of mental health disabilities of which anxiety and depression are the most common according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Physical symptoms may include headaches, changes in sleeping habits, fatigue.
Chronic stress can affect cognitive function as well due to secretion of high levels of cortisol and symptoms may include; disorganization, forgetfulness and poor planning. Chronic stress can also increase the risk of mental health problems of which anxiety and depression are most common.
How we manage our stress is very important. It is helpful to identify one’s stressors and make a mental note of them or even write down them. There are 4A’s of stress management, however, these may not prove beneficial to everyone. These 4A’s are: Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept.
Avoid: All stressors cannot be avoided, however, the ones that can be safely avoided should be avoided. These could be situations or even people. Trimming of the to-do list to one’s with high priorities may be of help, after all, there are only so much that a person can handle. Perfectionism is one source of avoidable stress.
Alter the situation; be willing to compromise and express feelings if necessary.
Adapt to the stressor if it can’t be changed. Reframe problems and adjust standards. Make time for fun and relaxation daily or at least from time to time to do something that you enjoy. I am aware that people can have such a tight schedule that there’s no “me time”, however, 15-30 minutes’ break can boost the mood.
Acceptance of the things that we cannot change such as the death of a loved one etc.
Self-care plays an important role in stress management. Exercise is helpful as it releases endorphins, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland of the brain which can boost the mood and help reduce stress. A healthy diet, adequate hydration and sleep can be very helpful. Social support from friends, family and loved ones can also help an individual during periods of prolonged stress.
“Sometimes self care is exercise and eating right. Sometimes it’s spending time with loved ones or taking a nap. And sometimes it’s watching an entire season of TV in one weekend while you lounge around in your pajamas. Whatever soothes your soul.” – Nanea Hoffman
Stress is a common experience and we are likely to experience it from time to time. It can’t always be avoided and as such it is important to learn to manage our stress and to find strategies that will help us cope under stress. It is also important to note that not everyone will experience chronic stress.