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The Facts about Stress

Every person experiences stress at some point in time. Some tolerate and manage it well, some cannot. Because people have different thresholds for stress and use different coping mechanisms, the impact of stress on their physical and mental well-being varies.

Everyone’s life is faced with problems, challenges, hassles, and pressures. No one is exempted from that. For some, these experiences help them respond well to stressful situations. Unfortunately, there are those who are not able to respond well to problems or situations that warrant stress or fear or anxiety.

Stress, like fear is a normal human response activated when faced with events or situations that make you upset or threatened. Technically, it is defined as the way the brain responds to any stimulation. If the situation presents some kind of danger or uncertainty, the stress caused by such will let the body and mind respond in a protective way. One becomes alert and focused, ready for any eventuality. In some cases and situations, the stress response could even be lifesaving.

Types of Stress

Stress can be categorized in three groups:

  • Good stress or Routine Stress – This is when stress is used to rise to the challenges. This kind of stress usually has good outcome and can be helpful in one’s learning and growth. This usually stems from pressures derived from work, family, and other daily responsibilities.
  • Tolerable stress – This is the person’s response to some bad events like losing a job. Most has the tools to hold up and contain the emotion. Reaching out to one’s support network helps in one’s coping with the bad situation.
  • Toxic stress – This stress is elicited when something bad happens and some people cannot activate inner resources or reach out to their support network to deal with the situation. These people seem to have vulnerability in coping or controlling their response to stress, which is likely triggered by environmental factors. This may cause major emotional and physical crisis.

Like fear, people respond to stress in different ways. It is important that a person understands the level of stress he can tolerate and cope well, and what level of stress can cause uncontrollable situations and anxiety disorders. Generally, people respond to stress in three ways:

  • Angry or agitated response. Your emotions are high, restless, disconcerted, tense, and jumpy.
  • Withdrawn or depressed response. Low energy and no significant reaction or emotion. You shun people and isolate yourself.
  • A tense and frozen response. It’s a concealed agitated response, showing no violent reaction. You may look paralyzed but underneath is extreme distress.

Symptoms of Stress Overload

There are signs and symptoms which indicate if your stress level is overboard.

  • Cognitive Signs – The warning signs include failing memory, lack of focus or concentration, poor judgement, racing thoughts, and constant, endless worrying.
  • Emotional Signs – The warning signs may range from frequent mood swings, irritability, extreme nervousness, overpowering feeling, severe loneliness, feeling of isolation, and depressed mood.
  • Physical Signs – The warning signs evident are constant bodily pains and aches, upset stomach, bowel movement problems (diarhea or constipation), nausea, vomiting, palpitation or hyperventilation, tightness of chest, loss of sexual desire and frequent bouts of cold.
  • Behavioral Signs – Stress is manifested by poor eating habits, bad sleeping habits, isolation from other people, forgetting responsibilities, alcohol and drug consumption to relieve stress, constant jittery gestures like nail-biting, cracking of knuckles, etc.

Common Stressors

Factors that contribute to the onset of stress symptoms are called stressors or triggers. These factors may be external or self-generated, such as:

  • Big life changes
  • Work, business or profession
  • Difficulties in relationships (family members, wife, children, friends, associates, etc.)
  • Financial crisis
  • Hectic schedule
  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Unrealistic projections and expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Passiveness
  • Negative value on self

Managing and Coping with Stress

If stress is not addressed and resolved, the effects it may have on a person might lead to an uncontrollable emotional outburst. One needs to undertake practical measures to maintain one’s physical and mental health which can reduce or minimize these negative effects. Learn how to:

  • Maintain a good support group or network of people who can help you talk through the situations
  • Recognize signals sent out by your body about overwhelming feeling of stress like sleeping problems, increase in alcohol or drug consumption, etc.
  • Focus on positive thoughts like accomplishments for the day and not dwelling on failures or disappointments
  • Set priorities according to urgency. Don’t get yourself overwhelmed with numerous tasks
  • Keep a regular 30-minute exercise regimen to help improve mood and get rid of stress.
  • Explore and engage in relaxation activities
  • Get proper care and treatment for existing or new problems
  • Consult with a professional mental health specialist when feeling overpowered by stress, feeling you are unable to function well and resorting to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanism.
  • If you are entertaining suicidal thoughts, it’s time to seek professional help. Remember to call crisis/help lines or 911.

When a person feels stressed out, she or he may try the following:

  • Take deep breaths in longer gaps (do not exhale before counting to ten slowly)
  • Have a long warm bath
  • Divert attention to music
  • Walk around the house, or the park or just taking long walks
  • Do yoga exercises
  • Go to a spa for a massage
  • Drink warm milk or anything that has no alcohol or caffeine content

One’s ability to cope with stress is largely dependent on one’s lifestyle choices. Keeping it to the basics : Healthy and balanced diet, good sleeping habits, regular physical and mental exercise and strong social networking, will help you get the inner strength and resources needed to ward off and manage toxic stress.

  • Try to get as much sleep as possible
  • Keep in touch with family and friends for support
  • Engage in regular physical and mental exercise to help ward off toxic stressful feelings
  • If one is smoking, try to quit. Just as alcohol and caffeine triggers stress so does nicotine.

Stress Relief

Stress is part of life. Having some stress is normal. However, if one gets too much stress, it can affect one’s quality of life and health. Hence, certain steps should be taken to get relief from stress.

A person should understand the problems causing stress and carry out actions to solve the problem or manage the response. The first step in successfully relieving stress is identifying what are causing the stress and making a decision to implement changes in how one manages such stressors. A simple example would be changing the TV channel if the program is showing news that are too distressing. If there is no way to avoid a stressful situation, one can think of ways to divert the mind from thinking too much about the situation – listening to music on an mp3 player may be a good way to reduce the stress. One can also ask family and friends for help by checking with them their own ways of handling stress. Or maybe one can try some tai chi, meditation techniques, yoga, or other relaxation exercises. As stress is not about to leave one’s life, one might just as well learn to deal and cope with it.

Relaxation Techniques

One important part of managing stress is doing relaxation exercises. Relaxation is essential in keeping a good health and well-being. And it can be achieved quite easily if a person practices the process. The following activities may help to some during stressful situations:

Hands and arms

  • Make your hand into a tight fist
  • Bend the hands back at the wrist feeling the tension release
  • Bend arms at the elbows with hands made into fists and taut biceps.
  • Shrug shoulders

Head and neck

  • Make your forehead wrinkle into a deep frown
  • Give the widest smile possible
  • Press lips tightly together
  • Press the head back against the floor
  • Touch the chin to the chest

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