Stress And Stress Management

The write up enlightens us on the true meaning of stress and how to deal with/manage and prevent chronic stress.

Introduction

Due to the overabundance of stress in our modern as well as everyday lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience, but on the contrary, and from a biological point of view, stress is a neutral term with both positive and negative sides.

Stress is defined in simple terms as a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in physical, emotional, and intellectual responses. It is a fact of nature in which forces from the inside or outside world affect the individual's emotional or physical well-being. 

NOTE: It is described as a "fact of nature" because it is unavoidable as it forms part of our everyday lives.

When we experience changes or challenges (Stressors) either at work, school, in relationships with others, in our homes, and in all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations we are confronted with on a daily basis, our body produces physical and mental responses, that is stress. Hence it is a normal part of life that can either help us learn and grow (positive effects of stress) or can cause us significant problems (negative effects of stress).

Effects of Stress

Positive Effects

Stress has positive effects on our lives when experienced in moderation and with effective stress management techniques. Generally, stress responses help our body adjust to new situations. It keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to face/avoid danger. 

Below are some other positive effects of stress:

1. Stress makes us stronger: Stress strengthens us in terms of being resilient. After we might have gone through a period of stress successfully, we are bound to see how strong we are mentally, emotionally, etc. Realizing this gives us a feeling of happiness and helps toughen us up more and more over helps us prepare better for next time.

2. Stress can increase your brain power: That's right, stress might actually make you smarter. Not only does it give you the opportunity to find new ways of doing things to reach success, but biological stress releases chemicals in the brain, known as neurotrophins, that can help improve your concentration and enable you to be more productive in the short term.

3. Stress increases productivity: At times, stress is the kick or push we need in order to leave our comfort zones or work outside the box and do more better than we did before. If we are feeling stressed about a project, it gives our creativity a boost and helps us push through roadblocks we may be facing.

4. Stress provides motivation: After inculcating much effort into our aim and getting low results compared to our effort, we feel like we may not be able to accomplish it in the long run, but as a result of the stress response, our brain is wired to react in a way that makes us strive more for success. Thus, stress moves us in the right direction and provides us with a deep sense of accomplishment.

5. Stress May Improve Your Immune System: Studies show that short-term periods of acute stress may help improve our immune system. According to the Stanford University School of Medicine, stress causes your body to release hormones that improve the function of cells which are vital to immune response and prepares us for action (to fight or flee). 

Negative Effects

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms develop.

Physical symptoms of chronic stress include:

1. Skin rashes/acne

2. Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing

3. Exhaustion

4. High blood pressure

5. Muscle tension or jaw clenching

6. Stomach or digestive problems

7. Trouble having sex

8. Weak immune system

9. Insomnia or sleeping too much

10. Migraine headaches

11. Undue aging

12. Prone to developing colds easily

Some of the emotional, behavioral and mental symptoms of chronic stress include:

1. Anxiety or nervousness

2. Mood changes like irritability, depression, and sadness

3. Panic attacks

4. Loss of enthusiasm/energy

5. Changes in eating habits (overeating or undereating) leading to weight gain and loss

NOTE: Often, people with chronic stress try to cope or manage it with unhealthy behaviors such as drinking alcohol too much or too often, participating compulsively in sex, smoking, eating disorders (overeating), pain/self-medication, etc., but this in actual sense worsen the stress and can make them reactive (sensitive) to further stress.

Stress Relief/Management Techniques

If you're living with high levels of stress, you're putting your entire well-being at risk. Prolonged stress narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life.

While it may seem like there is nothing you can do about stress at work and home (as well as situational stress like the death/effect of the death of a loved one, going through a divorce, etc.), there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control. Effective stress management helps you break the hold stress has on your life, so you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. The following stress management tips can help you with it;

1. Excercise: when you feel symptoms of stress, even a short walk, dancing around your room with music on, taking a walk with your dog, etc., can boost your mood. Exercise on a regular basis helps to turn down the production of stress hormones and associated neurochemicals. Thus, exercise can help avoid the damage to our health that prolonged stress can cause. In fact, studies have found that exercise is a potent antidepressant, anxiolytic (combats anxiety), and sleeping aid for many people.

2. Be optimistic about life: Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective, e.g., rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to listen to your favorite radio station or enjoy some alone time. At the end of the day, take a moment to think about what you've accomplished (reflect on your achievement) and not what you didn't get done. Stay positive and practice gratitude acknowledging the good part of your day or life. Accept that you can't control everything. Find ways to let go of situations you cannot change.

3. Consult a therapist: consider talking to a therapist or your healthcare provider about your worries when you feel overwhelmed or have thoughts about hurting yourself.

4. Strong social support network: stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you with practical things. A friend, neighbor, or family member can become a good listener. Also, learn to share responsibilities with your close friends so that stress doesn't become overwhelming.

5. Take good care of your body each day by eating good food, getting enough sleep, and trying some relaxation activities such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises, etc.

6. Learn how to say "no" to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed. Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. Distinguish between the "shoulds" and the "musts" and, when possible, say "no" to taking on too much.

Conclusion

It is natural and normal to be stressed, but chronic/long-term stress can have dilapidating consequences in our lives as severe as brain/mental disorder, panic attacks, and even suicidal attempts, etc. Hence the keys to keeping chronic stress at bay are appropriate to control stressors (causes of stress) and management of our physical (physiological) and mental (psychological) responses.

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