What is stress?
Stress is a natural response to pressure when presented with challenging or sometimes even dangerous situations (called stressors). When you experience stress, your body’s nervous system responds as a protective mechanism to help you handle the stressor by staying alert and increasing your energy.
However, if you are unable to control and manage your natural response to a stressor or you are experiencing stress regularly (chronic stress) with or without triggers, stress may begin to negatively impact your physical and mental health.
What are the signs of stress?
Stress can negatively affect your mind, behaviour and body. Signs of uncontrolled stress can include:
- Feeling irritable or angry – withdrawing from work and relationships
- Headaches and other aches and pains
- Fatigue – feeling burnt out and left feeling exhausted
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive upset
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling moody.
Chronic or long-term stress can be a symptom of an underlying issue. Make sure you visit your doctor or healthcare professional if you are experiencing long periods of stress.
What causes stress?
Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are released in response to certain triggers, which can then prompt a physical reaction. These physical reactions help to handle or defend against a stressor, for example by preparing to fight the threat or flee to safety.
There are different triggers that can cause you stress in different ways:
- Major life events such as a death in the family or getting married
- Routine stress from everyday life, such as work, having a medical condition or financial demands
- Traumatic stress from a life-threatening or violent situation that may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder
- Unpredictable events such as getting a new boss at work or an uninvited house guest.
If you find you are feeling stressed regularly, you may consider asking yourself these questions for handling stressors.
- Can you identify the triggers for your stress and deal with them before they become bigger problems?
- Are stressors placing you under too much pressure?
- Are your levels of stress helpful or getting you down?
- Are you making time for things you enjoy?
Try to answer these questions honestly to handle your triggers for stress. You may even have a few of your own questions to use. To anticipate stress before it takes hold, you might try calming yourself down and even preparing yourself for a response to a trigger.
Stress management and healthy living
Although it may be difficult to avoid stressors in your life, you may be able to alter your behaviour to better manage your stress.
Physical activity is a great way to focus your mind, and regular exercise also releases endorphins into your bloodstream that can boost your mood.
Invest your time in forming social relationships with people who care to talk about the stressors in your life, and avoid internalising your feelings.
If you notice you are starting to have symptoms of stress by a change in mood or concentration, try calming yourself down using relaxation techniques, such as practising yoga or listening to music. You may find it calming to have a daily routine to prepare you for your day.
- You may have heard the term ‘fight or flight’, which is your body’s natural hormonal response to stressors to either stay and deal with a stressor or run away to safety.
- After the stressor has been removed, it can take your body time to rebalance.
References available on request.