Stress is the disruption of the normal functioning of the body. It might be through a physical or psychological stimulus.
No doubts, everyone has been stressed at some point in their lives. Life itself is stressful.
To live means to strive. In today’s world with the fast cars, the fast life, the rat race and the system — go to school, pass exams, get a job, pay taxes, get married, get kids, get a pension — stress is unavoidable. It’s necessary to know how to handle stress.
Stress can be differentiated into Eustress and Distress. This is according to a model published by Richard Lazarus in 1974.
Eustress is when it enhances function — physical or mental work such as strength training. Distress, on the other hand, is not resolved through coping or adaptation. It may lead to anxiety, withdrawal and illnesses.
WHAT CAUSES STRESS
Stress is a response to a stimulus. Both negative and positive factors can lead to stress. Lack of money is a negative factor that can lead to stress. While performing at a high level is a positive factor that can lead to stress. Causes include:
Life events – births and deaths, marriage and divorce.
Responsibilities – lack of money, unemployment.
Work/Study – exams, project deadlines.
Personal relationships – conflicts, deception.
Lifestyle – heavy drinking, drug use, insufficient sleep.
Early life exposure – child abuse.
Environment – food, housing, health, freedom or mobility.
Hans Selye found out that all animals produce similar sets of reactions when exposed to stressors known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). It consists of three stages:
1. Alarm stage. This is the first stage when a stressor is identified. During this stage hormones such as adrenaline which activates the fight or flight response and cortisol, the stress hormone are produced. This is the stage you feel anxiety.
2. Resistance stage. In case the stressor persists, the body tries to adapt to it. Hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are still being released. The body cannot keep up with this for long and after a while, resources are gradually being depleted.
3. Exhaustion stage. All body resources are eventually depleted and the body can no longer keep up with the stressor. Initial symptoms of sweating and increased heart rate develops. If the stress is extended, long-term damage may develop. The result may manifest ulcers, depression, heart diseases, mental disorders.
NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF STRESS
Recent research suggests that stress accounts for more than 70 per cent of illnesses.
“The morbidity and mortality due to stress-related illness are alarming. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. According to statistics from Meridian Stress Management Consultancy in the U.K, almost 180,000 people in the U.K die each year from some form of stress-related illness. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States estimates that stress account about 75% of all doctors visits. This involves an extremely wide span of physical complaints including, but not limited to a headache, back pain, heart problems, upset stomach, stomach ulcer, sleep problems, tiredness and accidents. According to Occupational Health and Safety news and the National Council on the compensation of insurance, up to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.”
Some Organs Affected by Stress
The immune system helps the body to fight and prevent the body against infections. We come in contact with so many harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites and it is the function of the immune system to discover these harmful microorganisms and kill them.
Several studies have shown that chronic stress suppresses the body’s immune system, making them unable to function efficiently. This will make you get sick in instances your immune system should have protected you.
Think of how easy it is to get the Flu when you are stressed vs when you aren’t.
Studies have shown that psychological stress is a strong risk factor for heart diseases and deaths that occur as a result of this. A positive relationship between life stress, cardiac infarction and sudden death was discovered.
The INTERHEART study revealed that people with myocardial infarction reported a higher prevalence of four stress factors: stress at work and at home, financial stress and major life events in the past year.
Gastrointestinal diseases such as peptic ulcer and ulcerative colitis are greatly influenced by stress. Peptic ulcer was found to be higher in people who work in high-stress jobs compared to those who work in low-stress jobs.
Studies have shown that it increases stomach acid – which is what causes ulcers.
The relationship between stress and psychiatric illness is stronger than in other illnesses.
In studies employing the general population controls, there has been a consistent indication of the risk of increase of psychiatric illness in the 6 months after a life event.
Risks are greater for the more stressful types of events, greater for depression and neuroses than schizophrenia, and even greater for suicide attempts. Events must interact with a wide variety of background factors, and the appropriate model is one of multifactorial causation.
Cancers occur as a result of several risk factors. A few studies of women with breast cancer have shown a significantly high rate of disease among those women who experienced traumatic life events and loses within several years before their diagnosis.
Cancers develop for many years and are diagnosed only after a long time. So the loss of a dear one or a traumatic experience might not be the underlying course but it triggers the other risk factors and speeds up the progression of cancer.
WHAT TO DO WHEN STRESSED
It’s true that some people can deal with stress more than others. A part of it might be due to genetics. Apart also is due to training — the reason why soldiers can handle stress better. It’s necessary to train yourself to work under pressure if you want to be a high achiever.
- Take a deep breath – taking a deep breath detoxifies, de-stress, calms and keeps you in control. Shallow breathing is linked to stress and anxiety.
- Control your emotions – sometimes you may not be able to do anything about a situation but you can determine how you feel and react to it. Don’t go wild or overboard with your emotions. People do crazy things when they are not in control. You don’t want that to be you.
- Understand the situation – one of the reasons for being stressed is not understanding the situation. You rarely see experts and professionals stress over what they do. They’ve understood their professions to a level it just becomes a routine. Try to understand a situation and get better at it.
- Drink water – Studies have shown that dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels — the stress hormone. Drinking water has several health benefits.
- Talk to someone about it – Talk to someone — especially a loved one or an expert. They will help you understand the situation better and come up with a possible solution.
HOW TO PREVENT STRESS
Knowing how to deal with stress is simply not enough. It’s necessary to avoid being stressed easily. Ways you can prevent it are:
1. Avoid toxic relationships
You are the average of the people you surround yourself with. If you are with people that get stressed often or put a lot of pressure on sure, you’re like to be stressed. There are so many cool, light spirited people around than to be around negative people. Find them, and make them your friend.
2. Be Fit
Fitness helps you to be both physically and mentally strong. It makes you not only to be able to prevent stress but also to handle it. Also doing exercise releases “feel good” hormones such as dopamine and endorphins that will make you relaxed and elate your mood. Read why you need to be fit. If you don’t know where to start from, read fitness basics here.
3. Good Nutrition
Nutrition apart from providing energy also has so many benefits, like preventing and fighting infections, As you may know, fitness is 70% diet and 30% nutrition. Eating junks must be limited at all cost.
4. Learn to relax
No matter how busy you are, always find some time for relaxation. Remember health is wealth. It’s only when you are healthy you can do the things you love doing. So, make your health priority.
Go on vacations, visit friends, listen to music, go to outings, dates, do whatever that makes you happy.
5. Go at your own pace
You shouldn’t see life as a rat race. Most people that compete usually get frustrated. Try to go at your pace, no matter how slow. Remember the saying “slow and steady wins the pace”. This doesn’t mean you should be slow but rather to go at your own pace. Your slow might be another person’s fast and vice versa. A lot of depression and unfortunately suicide come as a result of people thinking they are not doing better or they aren’t where they are supposed to be. Be wise.
4. Get enough sleep
Sleep is very essential to your health. Inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being. It’s recommended to get a minimum of 8hours of sleep per day. Sleeping helps to create a balance in homeostasis. So good sleep could be a remedy for stress.
5. Deal with Addictions
Having an addiction will definitely get you stressed in the absence of the stimuli. This is known as the withdrawal effect. This is why drug, cigarette and alcohol addicts are usually anxious and are only able to relax after the use of the substance.
Some drugs e.g. heroine can have withdrawal effects up to a week. It’s best not to start using drugs. In case of an addiction, you can learn how to break free from it here.
6. Do what works for you
We all have a way of combating stress. For some it’s smoking a cigarette, for others, it might be drinking a glass of red wine or taking a cold shower. The point is to do what works for you while keeping in mind the negative effects of whatever you do. You should very well know the consequences of your actions.
If you think you have an addiction based on what you do to combat stress, that’s another problem on its own with a different solution. For example, smoking too much as a result of stress. In this case, you need to learn to break the addiction while also trying to reduce stress.
I suggest you see a doctor or talk to a professional about it — you might be dealing with chronic stress.
Stress might be actually good for you
In small doses, it can be a good thing. It can give the push you need, motivating you to do your best and to stay focused and alert.
It is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation, at work, or drives you to be successful, when you’d rather be watching TV. But when the going gets too tough and life’s demands exceed your ability to cope, it becomes a threat to both your physical and emotional well-being.