A Lady that is stressed out
A stressed Lady

What is stress?

The World Health Organization defined stress as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives. Everyone experiences it to some degree but the way we find relief from stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being.

Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. it begins in your brain and can be beneficial such as when it helps you reach your goals, avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when it lasts for a long time, it may harm your health. When your body is repeatedly on ‘high alert’, you may begin to suffer physically, emotionally, or mentally.

This article discusses the common causes, symptoms, and how you can find relief from stress.

 

Common causes of stress

A wide range of factors can cause stress often referred to as stressors.

Here are some common causes:

Work-related:

  • High workload and tight deadlines
  • Job insecurity
  • Conflict with coworkers or supervisors
  • Lack of control over tasks or decisions
  • Long working hours

Health-related:

  • Finding out about a severe or terminal illness
  • Caring for a loved one who is very unwell
  • Loss of functional abilities due to injury.

Relationship-related:

  • Relationship conflicts
  • Divorce or separation
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Family issues or caregiving responsibilities

Finance-related:

  • Debt and financial instability
  • Unexpected expenses
  • Loss of income, debt, or reduced income
  • Unsuccessful investments.

Environmental Factors:

  • Natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes)
  • Pollution and noise
  • Crowded or chaotic living conditions

Social Factors:

  • Social isolation or loneliness
  • Discrimination and prejudice

Academic Pressure:

  • Exams and academic performance
  • Heavy coursework or assignments
  • Educational transitions (e.g., starting college)

Lifestyle Choices:

  • Poor nutrition and lack of exercise
  • Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs)
  • Sleep deprivation

Technology and Social Media:

  • Constant connectivity and comparison on social media.
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 Types of stress

There are three main types of stress characterized by duration, intensity, and impact on an individual’s well-being:

1. Acute stress

Acute stress results from your body’s reaction to a new or challenging situation and is often caused by short-term situations that require immediate attention or response. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting.

Examples of acute stressors include public speaking, taking an exam, or narrowly avoiding a car accident. Usually, emotions and the body return to their normal state relatively soon.

2. Episodic acute stress

Episodic acute stress is when acute stresses happen on a frequent basis. This can be because of repeatedly tight work deadlines. It can also be because of the frequent high-stress situations experienced by some professionals, such as healthcare workers.

With this type of stress, we don’t get time to return to a relaxed and calm state and the effects of the acute stress accumulate. This type of stress is characterized by a pattern of repeated, short-term stress reactions that can lead to health issues if left unmanaged. Therefore, the need to find relief from stress.

3. Chronic stress

Chronic stress is the result of stressors that continue for a long period of time.

This type of stress feels never-ending. We often have difficulty seeing any way to improve or change the situation that is the cause of our chronic stress.

It can result from continuous exposure to stressors such as an unhappy marriage, a toxic work environment, or financial difficulties.

Chronic stress can have serious health implications including increased risk of various physical and mental health problems, if not effectively managed.

How stress affects the body
Effects of stress on the body

 

 

Physical symptoms of stress

A boy who is experiencing back pain because of stress
Symptoms of Stress

Physical symptoms of stress are the bodily responses that occur as a result of the body’s natural “fight or flight” reaction to stressors.

These symptoms can vary in intensity and may impact different systems of the body.

Here are some common physical symptoms:

  1. Muscle Tension:

    Tightness in muscles, often in the neck, shoulders, and back, which can lead to discomfort or pain.

  2. Headaches:

    Tension headaches or migraines triggered by increased muscle tension and blood vessel constriction.

  3. Fatigue:

    Feeling tired or exhausted even after rest, due to the body’s heightened state of arousal.

  4. Insomnia:

    Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep.

  5. Digestive Issues:

    Stomachaches, indigestion, bloating, or changes in appetite due to the impact of stress hormones on the digestive system.

  6. Nausea:

    Feeling queasy or sick to the stomach is a physiological response to stress.

  7. Increased Heart Rate:

    Rapid heartbeat or palpitations as a result of the body’s preparation for the “fight or flight” response.

  8. Hypertension:

    Elevated blood pressure due to increased cardiac output and narrowed blood vessels.

  9. Shallow Breathing:

    Rapid, shallow breaths can lead to feelings of breathlessness and anxiety.

  10. Chest Pain:

    Discomfort or tightness in the chest area, is often attributed to muscle tension or stress-related changes in blood flow.

  11. Dizziness:

    Feeling lightheaded or unsteady due to changes in blood pressure or circulation.

  12. Sweating: Excessive sweating or clamminess.
  13. Weakened Immune System:

    Increased susceptibility to illnesses due to the suppression of the immune response under chronic stress.

  14. Hair Loss:

    Increased hair shedding or thinning as a result of stress-induced changes in the hair growth cycle.

  15. Skin Issues:

    Breakouts, rashes, or exacerbation of skin conditions (e.g., eczema, psoriasis) due to stress-related inflammation.

Psychological Symptoms of Stress

Psychological symptoms of stress are the emotional and cognitive responses that individuals may experience when they are under stress.

These symptoms can vary from person to person and can have a significant impact on mental well-being.

Here are some common psychological symptoms of stress:

  1. Anxiety:

    Excessive worry, nervousness, and a feeling of impending doom or apprehension.

  2. Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  3. Irritability:

    Increased sensitivity to minor annoyances, easily triggered frustration, and short temper.

  4. Mood Swings:

    Rapid shifts in emotions, ranging from anger to sadness to euphoria.

  5. Difficulty Concentrating:

    Inability to focus, racing thoughts, and impaired decision-making.

  6. Memory Problems:

    Forgetfulness, impaired short-term memory, and difficulty recalling details.

  7. Decreased Self-Esteem:

    Feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, and self-criticism.

  8. Intrusive Thoughts:

    Unwanted and distressing thoughts that may be difficult to control.

  9. Apprehension: Constant feelings of unease or nervousness without a specific cause.
  10. Negative Thinking:

Seeing the worst in situations, and dwelling on potential adverse outcomes.

11. Cognitive Distortions:

Distorted thought patterns that contribute to heightened stress, such as catastrophizing or all-or-nothing thinking.

12. Perfectionism:

Setting unrealistic standards and feeling distressed when they are not met.

13. Excessive Worrying: Persistent and uncontrollable worrying about various aspects of life.

14. Panic Attacks: Sudden onset of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and dizziness

If it is not addressed, psychological symptoms can lead to more severe mental health issues. Therefore seek medical support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with these symptoms, reaching out to a mental health professional is recommended.

How to find relief from stress

One way you can find relief from stress
Relief from stress

To find relief from stress effectively involves using self-care and stress-relieving techniques to reduce and manage the physical and emotional consequences of stress. It also involves preventing a decline in health and functioning.

Consider the following stress relief techniques:

  1. Deep Breathing:

    Practice deep, slow breathing to trigger the body’s relaxation response and relieve stress.

  2. Meditation:

    Engage in mindfulness meditation to focus your attention on the present moment, calms your mind, and improve sleep.

  3. Yoga:

    Incorporate yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote relaxation and flexibility.

  4. Exercise:

    Engage in regular physical activity to release endorphins and reduce stress hormones.

  5. Healthy Diet:

    Consume a balanced diet rich in whole foods to support your body’s response to stress.

  6. Adequate Sleep:

    Prioritize getting enough restful sleep to support your body’s recovery and stress relief.

  7. Time Management:

    Plan and prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and avoid overcommitting yourself.

  8. Be orderly:

    Make a practical schedule and stick to it. Keep your physical space tidy and organized.

  9. Identify what stresses you:

    Take note of what stresses you and write your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to gain perspective and process your emotions. Think of ways to eliminate stressful things from your life.

  10. Positive Self-Talk:

    Replace negative thoughts with positive and realistic self-affirmations.

  11. Get Support:

    Connect with friends, family, and loved ones to share your feelings and seek comfort.

  12. Hobbies:

    Engage in activities you enjoy to provide an outlet for relaxation and creativity.

  13. Nature:

    Spend time outdoors in nature to reduce stress and improve mood.

  14. Art and Creativity:

    Express yourself through art, music, or other creative outlets.

  15. Mindfulness:

    Practice being fully present at the moment without judgment.

  16. Socializing:

    Spend time with friends and loved ones to enjoy social support.

  17. Volunteering:

    Engage in volunteer work to shift your focus from stress to helping others.

  18. Keep Technology in its place:

    Avoid checking email, texts, or social media sites constantly. Take breaks from screens and technology to reduce digital stress.

  19. Breathing Exercises:

    Practice various breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

Remember that everyone is unique, and different techniques may work better for different people.

It’s also essential to address the root causes of your stress whenever possible and seek professional help if stress becomes overwhelming or chronic.

 

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