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  • Writer's pictureAnda Bolojan

Everything You Need to Know About Stress

Stress is something we all experience in life to some degree. What makes the difference to our well-being is how we respond to it and how we make stress work for us rather than against us.

Stress

First of all, what is this thing called „stress”?


From a biological point of view, stress is a response to a perceived threat and is your body’s response to changes in your life, which will inevitably occur.


What we need to understand is that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What it will do, is trigger your fight-or-flight response in order to fight the stressor or run away from it. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released. This speeds the heart rate, slows digestion, shunts blood flow to major muscle groups, and changes various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. It’s what helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive, and it’s just as important in today’s world.


But the thing with stress is that it should be temporary. This means that once you’ve passed the fight-or-flight moment, your heart rate and breathing should slow down, your muscles should relax and your body should slowly return to its natural state, without any lasting negative effects.


The problems occur when the relaxation response doesn't occur often enough, and you’re being in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight, where stress becomes frequent or prolonged and becomes chronic. This is the moment when there will be more pressure put on the body than usual, and can eventually be mentally and physically harmful.


With that being said, our goal shouldn't be to eliminate all stress, but to eliminate unnecessary stress and effectively manage the rest.



What causes stress though?


Well, many different things in life can cause stress. Some of the main sources of stress include work, finances, relationships, parenting, health, as well as more mundane things like clutter, busy schedules, or any day-to-day inconveniences.


The source of stress is not as important, because, in reality, what we consider "stressful" is created by our unique perceptions of what we encounter in life, based on our own mix of personality traits, available resources, and habitual thought patterns. This is why a situation may be perceived as "stressful" by one person, merely "challenging" by another and completely unimportant by someone else.


This is why it’s important to place our focus on learning the skills to cope with these stressors and not on the stressor itself.



How can you identify it in your life?


Stress is not always easy to recognize and just as we each have different things that stress us out, our symptoms can also be different.


And although you’re unlikely to have them all, here are some things you may experience if you’re under stress:


  • Psychological signs such as difficulty concentrating, worrying, being anxious, and having trouble remembering

  • Emotional signs such as being angry, irritated, moody, or frustrated

  • Physical signs such as having high blood pressure, changes in weight, frequent colds or infections, or hormone changes

  • Behavioral signs such as poor self-care, not having time for the things you enjoy, or relying on drugs or alcohol to cope


Types of stress worth remembering


As we have already mentioned, not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. There are many different types of stress out there, but we’ll speak about the most important ones which are:


1. Acute Stress


Acute stress happens to everyone. It’s the type of stress that throws you off-balance momentarily, being the body’s immediate reaction to a new and challenging situation.


This is the type of stress that comes on quickly and often unexpectedly and doesn’t last too long, but shakes you up a bit and requires a response, like an argument with someone in your life, an exam for which you don’t feel adequately prepared or a car accident you’ve just avoided.


Acute stress can also come out of something that you actually enjoy. It’s the somewhat frightening, yet thrilling feeling you get on a roller coaster or when skiing down a mountain slope.


These incidents of acute stress don’t normally do you any harm. They might even be good for you, as they give your body and brain practice in developing the best response to future stressful situations.


Once the danger passes, your body systems should return to normal.


2. Chronic Stress


Chronic stress is the type of stress that tends to occur on a regular basis and seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a breaking marriage, an extremely demanding job, or even past trauma.


When the stress response is chronically triggered and the body is not brought back to a relaxed state before the next wave of stress hits, the body can stay triggered indefinitely.


This is why this type of stress may leave you feeling drained and can also lead to frequent indispositions such as headaches, an upset stomach, sleep difficulties, or even burnout, if it’s not effectively managed.


This brings us to our most important point.



How can we manage it?


The goal of stress management isn’t to get rid of it completely. It’s not only impossible, but as we mentioned, stress can be healthy in some situations.


In order to manage your stress, first you have to identify the things that cause you stress — or your triggers. Figure out which of these things can be avoided. Then, find ways to cope with those negative stressors that can’t be avoided.


Here are some ways to start managing stress in the following areas:


Lifestyle

  • Have a balanced diet. It is essential to establish healthy dietary habits, as diet has a strong correlation to stress levels and mental health.

  • Exercise as much as possible. Physical activity is essential for a healthy body and it also helps with maintaining stress levels. The World Health Organization suggests that we engage in 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity throughout the week.

  • Create healthy boundaries with bad habits like cigarettes and alcohol use. Overuse of unhealthy substances such as these can harm the body's immune functioning, triggering stress and health issues.

  • Get a good night's sleep. Without proper rest, it is difficult for the body to have healthy immune responses. It is beneficial to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night. To help with that, try sleeping in a dark room, limiting exposure to screens before bedtime and not eating a few hours before bed.

  • Try therapy. Psychotherapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be very beneficial to developing thinking and behavioral habits that can reduce stress. It can also help with determining what is possibly triggering your stress.


Self-Care

  • Make time to relax. Leisure time is very important. Even if it's just a few minutes of deep breathing, you must view relaxation as a task to check off your to-do list.

  • Take some time for yourself. Make time for a "you day" or even a vacation. You deserve a break every now and then from your daily routine. You can go to a spa or book a city break. Either way, the goal is to make time for you.

  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance. As we previously mentioned, burnout due to stress is associated with being overworked. So make sure you find your balance between your personal and professional life.

  • Pick up a hobby. Hobbies are very impactful to mental health and relieve stress. Whether it be stimulating the brain with a puzzle, curling up with a good book, tapping into your creative side with painting, or engaging in some physical activity like bicycle riding, hobbies help us to clear our minds and connect with ourselves.


Social Support

  • Surrounding yourself with loved ones can help you bring that positive and warm energy to your life. Family and friends are also the ones who can offer you a listening ear when you need it.

  • Have an active social life. Even if you might be an introvert, be sure to go out and enjoy yourself now and then. Being around people you care about and who bring you joy is an excellent way to de-stress.

  • Talk with a loved one. Sometimes just "talking it out" helps manage the effect of stress. When you feel overwhelmed, you may want to consider seeking advice and comfort from someone you care for and trust. Speaking with someone you trust can offer a new perspective on why you are feeling the way you do lately and help you feel this sense of relief by expressing your emotions.


Conclusion


The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, fun, and the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head-on.


This is why is so important to take care of ourselves every day and prioritise our mental, physical, and emotional health.


Stress management is not one-size-fits-all. This is why it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you, because, as Aristotle said, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.



 

*to help you even more on this journey, we’ll leave you with 10 good books on this topic that you can take a look at on your next visit to the library (you know, when you have that “you” time):


When the Body Says No - Gabor Maté

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers – Robert M. Sapolsky

Burnout - Emily Nagoski

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living - Dale Carnegie

Unfu*k Yourself - Gary John Bishop

The Mountain Is You - Brianna Wiest

Think Like a Monk - Jay Shetty

The Highly Sensitive People - Bennett Robson

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? - Julie Smith

Unwinding Anxiety - Judson Brewer


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