It may sound strange, but stress isn’t always bad.
In small doses, it can help you perform at your best under pressure. But if you’re constantly under extreme stress, both your body and mind pay the price. If you find yourself constantly exhausted and panicked, it’s time to do something to get your nervous system back in balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to identify the signs and causes of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
What is Stress?
Stress is your body’s response to threats or demands of any kind. When you sense danger, whether real or imagined, your body’s defense mechanism quickly and automatically engages in a process known as the flight-or-fight reaction. Experts call it the stress response.
The stress response is your body’s way of protecting you. It keeps you energetic, concentrated and mindful when functioning properly. In an emergency, it can save your life by giving you extra strength to defend yourself or, for example, by getting you to hit the brakes to avoid an accident.
Stress also helps you stand up to meet challenges. It’s what gives you the determination to stay on your toes during your business presentation, what sharpens your concentration while taking a penalty in the astroturf match, or what takes you to study for the exam instead of watching TV. But after a certain threshold, stress stops helping you and, on the contrary, begins to wreak havoc on your health, psychology, productivity, relationships and quality of life.
What Happens to Your Body in Flight or Fight
When faced with a threat, your nervous system orders an intense release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare your body for emergencies. Your heart starts beating faster, your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, your breathing becomes faster, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your stamina and strength, shorten your reaction time, and improve your focus so you can fight danger or get away from the environment.
Effects of Chronic Stress
Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. Even if you’re stressed out over a simple argument with a friend, unpaid bills, or a routine workday, your brain will perceive it as if you’re dealing with a real life-or-death struggle in nature, and your body will respond accordingly. Moreover, the more often you stay in this state, the easier it will be for your body to open the emergency mechanism and the harder it will be to turn it off.
If you tend to experience frequent stress, as many of us live in today’s demanding world, your body will be in a state of high stress for long periods of time. This can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress can disrupt nearly every system in your body. It suppresses your immune system, makes your digestive system and reproductive system irregular, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and accelerates the aging process. It even changes the neural connections in your brain, making you more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and other mental problems.
Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress:
depression and anxiety, all kinds of pain, sleep problems, immune system diseases, digestive problems, skin diseases such as eczema, heart diseases, weight problems, reproductive problems, memory and thinking disorders.
One of the most dangerous aspects of stress is that it imposes itself too easily. You can get used to it in a short time. Over time, it may start to feel familiar or even normal. In fact, even if you are experiencing the damage, you may not realize how much it affects you. That’s why it’s important to be aware of common signs and signals that indicate you’re dealing with a stress situation.
1. Memory problems
2. Concentration disorders
3. Poor decision-making ability
4. Seeing only the negative
5. Anxiety and overthinking
6. Being worried all the time
1. Depression and general unhappiness
2. Anxiety and distress
3. moodiness, irritability, or anger
4. Feeling depleted
5. Loneliness and isolation
6. Other mental problems
1. Aches and pains
2. Diarrhea or constipation
3. Nausea and drowsiness
4. Chest pain, irregular heartbeat
5. Decreased sexual desire
6. Frequent catching the flu or cold
1. Eating too little or too much
2. Sleeping too little or too long
3. Stay away from people
4. Avoiding responsibilities
5. Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs for relaxation
6. Obsessive habits (like nail biting, step counting)
Causes of Stress
Pressures or situations that cause stress are known as stressors. Usually, when the word stressor is mentioned, negative things like a heavy work schedule or a troubled relationship come to mind. However, any situation that overloads you can be a stressor. Positive examples such as marriage, buying a house, starting college, or getting a promotion at work are also included as stressors.
Of course, stress does not always arise due to external factors. Stress can also originate from your inner world. If you think excessively about something that is not sure whether or not it will happen, or you constantly have pessimistic ideas about life, you create stress on yourself.
Ultimately, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on how you perceive it. What is stressful for you may not be a concern for anyone else; maybe someone else even likes it. For example, the morning commute from your home to your workplace may make you nervous because of traffic, while someone else may feel happy in traffic because they have free time to listen to music and recuperate.
Common Extrinsic Causes of Stress
1. Major changes in your life (like moving to another city, getting married)
2. Work or school
3. Difficulties in your private relationships
4. Financial troubles
5. Being overly busy
6. Family and child care
Common Internal Causes of Stress
2. Low ability to accept uncertainty
3. Fixed thinking, lack of flexibility
4. Negative inner voice
5. Unrealistic expectations, perfectionism
6. All or nothing attitude
10 Events That Cause Stress in Your Life
1. Your spouse’s death
5. Death of a close family member
6. Illness or disability
8. Getting fired
9. Marriage problems
How Much Stress Is Too Much for You?
Many factors can affect your ability to withstand stress. Some:
Your Support Network: It’s important to have friends or family by your side as a strong support in the face of stress. Knowing the people around you will ease the pressure of life. On the contrary, a lonely and isolated life will increase the risk of succumbing to stress.
Your Sense of Control: It will be easier to deal with stress if your self-confidence is strong and you have the ability to direct events and overcome difficulties. On the other hand, if you surrender to environmental conditions and situations beyond your will and believe that you are incapable of changing them, of course, stress is likely to take over and destroy you.
Your Attitude and Perspective: Your outlook on life and the inevitable challenges it brings largely determines your ability to cope with stress. Generally, if you are a hopeful and optimistic person, you will be more stress-free. Stress-resilient people are often witty, sarcastic, lofty, and see challenges as an inevitable part of life.
Your Ability to Cope With Your Emotions: If you don’t know how to calm down and relax when you’re sad, angry, or scared, you have a higher chance of getting stressed. As your ability to recognize and direct your emotions becomes stronger, your immunity to stress will increase.
Your Knowledge and Preparation: If you have information about a situation that is likely to cause stress, such as how long it will last and how to expect it to result, it will be easier to get over it. For example, you will have surgery and you know what the post-operative distress will be like and how long it will last. In this case, you will be better prepared to deal with the painful recovery period after surgery.