Stress – despite a short word, has a dangerous and prolonged impact on a person’s physical and mental health. We all have dealt with bearing stress at some point in our lives.
As a student, you have exam stress, whereas as an employee, you have to deal with the tense interaction with your boss. Each human being is different from one another with their distinct thinking patterns, coping mechanisms, perceptions, and ways of responding to certain experiences and behavior of other people. Therefore, for some emotionally stable people, stress might not be a frequent occurrence, while for other people, stress is a regular part of life.
Our body is in tune with our mind at all times. The ache that you feel in your stomach may not always be the result of food poisoning; it might be due to certain underlying stress in your mind that is manifesting itself in the form of physical pain. For this purpose, Health Psychology has been developed concerning the concept that how psychological behaviors contribute to physical illness.
Stress can be of numerous types: acute, chronic, or environmental stress, eustress, and distress.
Acute stress is viewed as a potential imminent threat, be it physical, emotional or psychological.
Such threats don’t have to be highly threatening — they can be mild stressors like a wake-up call, a new job, or even a phone call that needs to be answered while you’re relaxing on a couch, and your phone is a not in your hand’s reach. Acute stress can be easily handled by using simple calming strategies that function rapidly, such as deep breathing or giving yourself a pep talk.
Chronic stress is manifested when stress continues to occur for a prolonged period of time and starts damaging your health. Getting strain or tension out more than usual puts your body in a heightened state of prevailing stress. It can weaken your immune system, disrupt your digestive and reproductive systems, increase stroke risk and accelerate the ageing process. It can also rewire the brain, making you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and other issues concerning mental health.
There can be several stressors in the environment that could affect you; for instance, the human mind and body can react differently to different temperatures. If the temperature is too hot, the students won’t be able to perform up to their potential, as they will lose mental attention in hot environment. Other stressors such as noise can be a real nuisance to your mood; for example, if some students are making too much noise in the class, the other students who are trying to do their work will get frustrated and disturbed.
Eustress,also known as the beneficial stress, is shockingly a good stress that can be quite fruitful for you. Eustress produces the feeling of excitement, happiness, contentment and motivates us to achieve our goals. Examples of Eustress include a challenging assignment or a strength training workout.
Distress is the opposite of eustress, and it produces extremely unpleasant feelings and emotions. With feelings of distress, a person’s daily life functioning can be severely impaired. Negative thoughts regarding one’s own self, others or the environment start establishing themselves in mind. Distress contributes to other mental health problems as well, such as sadness, anxiety or depression.
Environmental psychology is the relationship of the natural world with human beings through psychological and ecological principles.
The Stress Response System:
Feeling stress or being in stress is, after all, a part of our daily life. Therefore, our bodies are prepared to deal with it by igniting the stress response system and basically, our minds also play a significant role in responding to stress. Although people resort to different methods to cope with their stress, such as finding relief in alcohol or using defense mechanisms such as denial or projection to run from their stress, all such things are not permanent solutions. Therefore, a healthy mechanism, such as the flight and fight response produced by the body, to deal with stress is essential. Fight or flight “response is the body’s emergency response system. During emergencies, it is activated to keep you safe. The response to stress involves physical and thinking responses towards your understanding of various circumstances. When the stress response is turned on, substances such as adrenaline and cortisol may be released in your body that helps in putting your body in its normal state. Your organs are programmed to respond to circumstances considered difficult or dangerous in many ways.
Our mind is a very powerful entity, as this stress comes from our mind, and instead of this stress controlling us, we can subject our mind to control it. A famous endocrinologist named Hans Selye discovered the General Adaptation Syndrome. His theory gives a proper description of the whole stressful process so we can be ready beforehand for any stressful situation and have a better chance of surviving through it. It is a 3-stage process.
First stage: Alarm
It occurs when we experience something unpleasant first, and then the body begins the fight-or-flight response.
Second stage: Resistance
If the perceived stress persists, the body remains stimulated in an attempt to reduce the ongoing stress at a higher metabolic level. The body will not be able to sustain this amount indefinitely, and will gradually deplete its energy.
Third stage: Exhaustion
Prolonged exposure to the stressor can lead to exhaustion of the body’s resources, the resulting wear and tear can weaken the immune system and cause degradation of body functions. It can lead to a variety of health issues and illnesses, including heart disease, stomach disorders, depression, and diabetes.
Being aware of these three stages will give us a clear indication of what we should do to prevent stress from doing any more damage.
There can be Alternative Stress Responses by your body to stress, such as high blood pressure, nausea or upset stomach. Decreased or increased appetite, which is accompanied by weight gain or loss, is also a bodily response to stress.
Stressful Life Events:
Just like the old Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, this world or this life gives us a taste of both good and bad. Although who doesn’t want all the goodness in the world but going through all the bad experiences makes us and changes us and lets us appreciate the blessings we have.
Any kind of trauma, life-changing experiences, daily life problems or our irrational thoughts, although minor, can still leave a pretty significant impact on one’s life.
For instance, a large scale disaster or trauma happened in your life in the past, and it impacted you to such core that now without any clear evidence, you start thinking of the worst-case outcomes in any situation you are present in. A pessimistic attitude is formed towards life events. Such type of thinking is called catastrophe thinking. This type of thinking will lead to anxiety problems.
As humans, we are quite motivated towards our goals, and therefore we try to burn the midnight oil to get to the top, but setbacks are a part of life, and continuous work may lead a person to the state of burnout. Burnout is a condition of intense and persistent stress induced by social, physical, and mental exhaustion. It happens when you feel stressed, physically exhausted, and unable to meet relentless demands. As the stress continues, you also begin to lose confidence and motivation, which in the first place has led you towards your goal. Burnout’s adverse effects spill over into all areas of life, including your home, work and social life. Burnout may also induce long-term body changes that render you vulnerable to illnesses such as colds and flu. It is necessary to deal with burnout immediately because of its several negative consequences.
Furthermore, the daily life problems that we face, such as an incompletion of work or relationship problems can increase our stress levels if we dwell on them longer instead of finding a solution.
Stress and its impact on health:
Our mind and body are very well connected; evidence being that sometimes a life-threatening illness such as cancer can put one in a state of major depression. And sometimes, mental illnesses such as anxiety can affect your physical health. In fact, there is a specific term ‘somatization’ to describe this relation. Somatization is when you relate a physical illness to your ongoing mental illness. For example, a pain in the neck or headache caused due to stress. At times we are unaware that these physical symptoms are a result of stress and may think that we have a certain disease. If such thinking prolonged, these physical symptoms persist and take the form of somatoform disorders.
Moreover, other ways in which stress impacts our health include the release of hormones produced during stress which weaken our immune system and reduce the sensitivity of our body to foreign invaders. People with chronic stress are more susceptible to viral diseases such as flu, the common cold and other infections. Moreover, stress may influence heart disease-enhancing habits and factors: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating. Stress increases your blood pressure as well. It is one of the symptoms of cancer. Many people may prefer to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to “manage” their chronic stress, but they may raise blood pressure and damage their body functions in the long run.
Coping with stress:
There are numerous ways to deal with stress, and these ways differ from person to person. But subjecting yourself to harmful coping mechanisms is just like going into a deeper hell hole. Therefore, adopting healthy habits such as a balanced lifestyle, better sleep cycle, taking a break once in a while, and seeing a therapist if the problem persists.
Let us look at what kinds of coping mechanisms people use:
It is when you anticipate a coming stressful event and make changes beforehand to overcome it. For instance, if one is stressed while dealing with crowds, then we may change our strategy to avoid crowds.
It is when you deal with stress by nipping it in the bud. You altogether remove the fundamental cause of the stress by thinking logically.
For instance, if you feel pressurized and rushed at work and it’s affecting your mood but you deal with it by thinking that the reason you are being told to overwork is that no one else can do this work as efficiently as you can do.
It is when you try to reduce the negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and aggression by adopting different coping methods, which can be negative or positive. Positive ways can be writing out your feelings in a journal, whereas negative may include the use of alcohol or drugs to avoid emotions.
Stress State Management:
Stress can be dangerous, but it can be dealt with. Having proper control over your emotions and beliefs and by motivating yourself, you can manage stress effectively. If we can stress out about a situation in many ways, we can cope with it in many ways too.
For instance, by the use of quick stress relievers such as deep breathing can help calm down your body. Moreover, through social support, relaxation, exercise and meditation, you can form a wall between you and the stressors. Practicing the art of communicating can also help tear down the stress and make you more confident about yourself to deal with future stressful events. Stressors can be anything in your life, whether your thoughts or a particular person in your life. Eliminating the toxic person from your life is an effective move to reduce stress in your life.
Some other tips that may help in keeping you away from stress as possible are to:
- Hold a positive attitude.
- Accept that some things are uncontrollable.
- Be assertive, not violent. Instead of being angry, defensive or passive, show your thoughts, views or beliefs.
- Know how to handle your time more efficiently.
- Properly set boundaries and learn to say no to demands that will cause undue tension in your life.
- Allow time for recreation, hobbies and passions.
- Take enough rest and get enough sleep. The body needs time to heal from traumatic circumstances.
- To relieve stress, don’t rely on alcohol, drugs or compulsive behaviors.
- Spend quality time with those you love.
Everyone has to face problems at any point of his or her life. Letting those problems affect you negatively will not only harm you, but it will also affect the people around you. Instead of losing hope, follow stress coping techniques and stay motivated. The journey from stress to happiness is not easy but you have to make your way. Be positive and try to make your stress level to zero by making your life simple.