Stress is a daily reality for many of us. It is a natural reaction to high-pressure situations and, in small doses, can even be beneficial. It may arise from any occurrence that leads to frustrations, anger, and nervousness. However, regular stress can lead to a physical response and emotional response that can lead to health problems over time such as cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and gastrointestinal diseases.
How Stress Can Affect Our Health
Stress may bring a positive or negative effect, depending on how it is handled, but one thing is for sure, it is a silent killer. Stress response may be beneficial in protecting the body. However, stress has harmful effects, which may become a serious chronic condition if not well managed. When the body becomes triggered too easily or too many stressors at a go, it can undermine one’s mental and physical health and become harmful. In addition, feelings of stress tend to increase the number of stressors.
When someone faces a challenge or a threat, they partly respond physically. The body activates resources that help it either stay and confront the challenge or seek safety as fast as possible.
The body produces larger quantities of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals can trigger specific physical reactions such as alertness, sweating, heightened muscle preparedness, and high blood pressure. These factors help in improving someone’s ability to respond to challenging situations.
Two Types of Stress
The two main types of stress are acute stress and chronic stress. Learn the difference between the little stresses that we experience daily and the more severe stress that can build up when you are exposed to a stressful situation over a longer period.
1. Acute stress
Acute stress is short-term and is more common and often develops when people consider the pressures of events that have recently occurred or face upcoming challenges soon. Usually, this stress will reduce or disappear once somebody resolves the stressing issue. It’s often due to a new stressor and tends to have a simple and possible easy solution. Even if the situation may be difficult, there’s always a possible way to get rid of the stress or get a solution.
Acute stress does not cause much damage as long-term, chronic stress. Short-term effects may include tension headaches and an upset stomach, and a moderate amount of distress. However, cumulative acute stress over longer periods can become chronic and harmful.
2. Chronic stress
Chronic stress is long term stress and is more harmful. It results from long-term poverty, family issues, unhappy marriages, or prolonged dissatisfaction, hence chronic stress. It occurs when the individual has no view of avoiding their stressors and stops finding a solution ending up experiencing traumatic experiences. This stress can make it almost impossible for the individual’s body to return to a normal stress hormone activity, thereby leading to complications in; the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, immune system, reproductive system, and sleep.
Recurrent stress increases one’s risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. Moreover, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) may develop if stress gets chronic.
Chronic stress may continue unnoticed, as people can become used to feeling agitated and hopeless. Therefore, it becomes part of an individual’s personality, making them constantly prone to the effects of stress regardless of the scenarios they encounter, putting one at the risk of the effects of stress, hence becoming victims of this silent killer.
Individuals with chronic stress risk having a last-minute breakdown, leading to suicide, violent actions, a heart attack, or stroke.
Causes of Stress
Different People will react differently to stressful situations. A situation may seem stressful to one person and may not be stressful to another; overall, almost any situation can cause stress. For some, just thinking about a trigger or several smaller triggers can cause stress.
There is no specific reason why an individual may feel less stressed than another when facing the same issue. However, mental health illnesses, such as depression, or accumulated sense of frustration, injustice, and anxiety, may make some individuals feel stressed more easily than others.
Past events may affect how one reacts towards stressing issues. Some major issues in life, such as job issues, poverty or lack of money, loss of a beloved one, family issues, sickness, and such may be common life events that can cause stress.
Stressful jobs such as military, emergency services, and a debriefing session after a major issue and mental health services should be provided for averting stress.
Symptoms of Stress
Some stress-related behaviors include:
- cravings of certain
- eating too much or too little
- sudden angry outbursts
- drug and alcohol misuse
- higher tobacco consumption
- social withdrawal
- frequent crying
- relationship problems
Chronic stress may lead to worse conditions such as:
- muscle aches
- low body immunity
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- depression and anxiety disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)
- impotence/ low libido
- stomach problems
- sleeping difficulties.
Physical Effects of Stress
Stress slows down some of our normal body functions, mostly the digestive and immune systems performance. The body then concentrates its resources on breathing, blood flow, and alertness and prepares its muscles for a reaction.
The physical effects of stress can include:
- back and chest pains
- muscle cramps
- nervous twitches
- needle sensations
The Emotional reactions of stress include:
- feelings of insecurity
- lack of concentration
- burn out
- mood disorders
Tips for Dealing With Stress
Regular Exercise Routine
Through the different type of exercise, one finds a change in his/her normal lifestyle more interesting, and it helps relieve oneself, thereby helping in releasing accumulated tension. Studies confirm that physical exercise can reduce stress in animals. Regular exercises break down the monotony of normal daily activities, diverting attention from idleness or rather time that could have been used up revisiting previous stressor accounts.
Breathing and relaxation techniques are also found to reduce stress. Some practices, such as meditation, massage, and yoga, can help reduce stress. Relaxation and breathing techniques slow down the heart rate and promote relaxation. For instance, deep breathing is a central part of mindfulness meditation, which helps people battling depression.
Improvement in Diet
Consuming a healthy, well balanced diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables helps boost the immune system during stressful periods. Poor nutrition leads to health problems and increases stress levels. Reduction in alcohol, drugs, and caffeine intake also helps reduce stress. The reduction of consumption of the substances will not help prevent stress. However, they are known to worsen it.
The intake of stimulants and depressants just post-pone stress for a while and may also pose serious health impacts on the user if used overboard.
Proper Time Management
You can dedicate some time to spend a little time organizing a daily to-do list and focusing on urgent or time-sensitive tasks. A person can focus on daily accomplishments rather than on the tasks they have yet to complete. You can dedicate time to organizing daily schedules, having some fun, and pursuing personal interests. For persons who do not have the time and energy for hobbies, there are other ways they can come up to help in relaxation. They can try many different new fun activities and see how they feel.
Talking to Specialists, Close People, and Relatives
It is helpful when you share feelings and worries with family, friends, and colleagues. Such helps a person reduce pressure build-up and reduce feelings of isolation. In other cases, people can suggest unexpected and workable solutions to the other person’s problems.
The APA encourages people to develop social support networks, such as befriending neighbors and other people within your local community, subscribing for club membership, and being part of charity and religious organizations. Being part of a group reduces the risk of developing stress and provides support and practical help whenever challenging circumstances surface.
Visiting a counselor after encountering traumatic experiences is very crucial. Whenever you realize that stress affects your daily life, it’s a red light to seek a doctor or psychiatric specialist’s professional help.
Acknowledging Signs of Stress
An individual might be too anxious about the stressful situation that they don’t pay attention to its effects on their body. It is essential to be mindful of any changes within your body.
Noticing early signs and symptoms is the first step to taking action and the most critical. For example, a person who experiences work-related stress due to long working hours needs to “take a step back.” they should look into their work-life balance and find equilibrium.
Therapy pursues one or more of the following techniques in stress treatment:
- The removal or change of the source of stress
- Alteration of a person’s attitude towards a stressful event
- Reduction on the effects that stress has on the body by learning alternative ways of coping with stressful situations
Different people have different self-devised techniques on how to get rid of stress. The most effective stress management techniques involve indulging in hobbies such as reading books, walking it off, listening to music, hanging out with friends/ pets, working out at the gym, and other stress reducers activity that helps people unwind. Reducing the amount of time one is idle and keeping oneself busy can avert major stress impacts. Activities such as hobbies may be a good consumer of idle time hence providing the body with joyful moments diverting attention from possible stressors. Whenever stress becomes overwhelming, it would be wise for one to seek professional assistance.
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