What is stress? Stress is often described as a feeling of being overloaded, wound up tight, tense and worried. We all experience stress at times. It can sometimes help to motivate us to get a task finished, or perform well. But stress can also be harmful if we become over-stressed and it interferes with our ability to get on with our normal life for too long.
When we face a stressful event, our bodies respond by activating the nervous system and releasing hormones such as Adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body which help us to react quickly and effectively to get through the stressful situation. This is sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response. The hormones increase our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism and muscle tension. Our pupils dilate and our perspiration rate increases. .
Symptoms of Stress can include:
- Headaches, other aches and pains
- Sleep disturbance, insomnia
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Feeling moody, tearful
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Heart disease
Sometimes stress can be brief, and specific to the demands and pressures of a particular situation, such as a deadline, a performance or facing up to a difficult challenge or traumatic event. This type of stress often gets called acute stress.
There are times where stress seems to be experience acute stress over and over. This is sometimes referred to as episodic acute stress. These kind of repetitive stress episodes may be due to a series of very real stressful challenges, for example, losing a job, then developing health problems.
Some people tend to worry endlessly about bad things that could happen, are frequently in a rush and impatient with too many demands on their time, which can contribute to episodic acute stress.
The third type of stress is called chronic stress. This involves ongoing demands, pressures and worries that seem to go on forever, with little hope of letting up. Chronic stress is very harmful to people’s health and happiness. Even though people can sometimes get used to chronic stress, and may feel they do not notice it so much, it continues to wear people down and has a negative effect on their life.
Seek professional help If high levels of stress continue for a long period of time. A mental health professional, can help you identify behaviors and situations that are contributing to high stress, and help you to make changes to the things that are within your control. Seeking help can be one way to manage your stress effectively.
STRATEGIES FOR STRESS
Make time for relaxation. This will help your body and nervous system to settle and readjust.
This includes making time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music. Another idea is to plan things to do each day that you look forward to and which give you a sense of pleasure, like reading a book.
It is very helpful to be able to identify early warning signs in your body that tell you when you are getting stressed. These vary from person to person, but might include things like tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, getting headaches, or feeling irritable and short tempered.
There are sometimes known triggers which raise our stress levels and make it more difficult for us to manage. If you know what the likely triggers are, you can aim to anticipate them and practise calming yourself down beforehand, or even find ways of removing the trigger. Triggers might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, hunger or over-tired children.
Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, can be very calming and reassuring, and can help you to manage your stress. Routines can include:
- Regular times for exercise and relaxation
- Regular meal times, waking and bedtimes
- Planning ahead to do particular jobs on set days of the week.
Look after your health, ensure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise. Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing.
Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.