WHAT IS STRESS?
You’ve been there… You’re shopping for groceries in a supermarket aisle with the kids and they won’t stop screaming and running into things, or, you’re at work and you have an excessive pile of workload with the deadline approaching fast. These are just a few of the many stressful situations that manifest themselves in our daily lives in varying degrees and circumstances.
As miniscule as stress may seem, it could lead to far-reaching implications on our physical and mental health if left unchecked and untreated. Stress presents itself as symptoms ranging from irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia and when it’s not properly addressed in the long-term, it may lead to more serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, fertility issues, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), abnormal heart beating (arrhythmia) amongst other diseases.
In a study done according to Gallup’s annual Global Emotions report, stress is surging internationally. “Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it.” Gallup Managing Editor, Mohamed Younis wrote in the report. Gallup conducted interviews in 2017 with more that 154,000 adults in more than 145 countries to assess the emotional lives of people around the world.
According to the report as mentioned in Time Magazine, almost 40% of adults from 145 countries said they’d experienced worry or stress the day before the survey, while 31% said they’d felt physical pain, 23% said they’ve been sad and 20% said they’d felt anger. While stress may be more prevalent now that it has been in recent years, there are numerous ways to manage and handle it effectively so that the quality of our lives and the lives of the people around us may improve significantly.
IDENTIFYING THE CAUSE OF STRESSORS
As much as we’d like to eliminate stress from our lives, it’s impossible as it’s a part of it. Stress arises when we find ourselves in situations where life demands more from us than we can actually give, as well as struggling with handling and coping with these required demands. It’s important to identify stressors, or the things that cause stress before it can be properly managed.
Major stressors can include external major changes in one’s life such as but not limited to:
· Getting a divorce
· Termination of a job
· Family problems
· Financial issues
However, stress isn’t only affected by external causes, they can be a result of internal causes that’s usually self-produced, such as overly-obsessing or overly-worrying about something that can or cannot occur.
Examples of internal stressors include:
· Our inability to accept uncertainty
· Rigid thinking
· Negative self-talk
· Unrealistic expectations
If you’re a parent, then you’ll understand the countless responsibilities that come with parenting and you can’t help but feel you’re barely able to keep afloat balancing work and family. It’s hard not to feel like a big ball of stress. If we’re not keeping our stressors in check, it has the potential to build up over time and leave us overwhelmed. At its more serious forms, stress can develop into feelings of hopelessness and overtime may lead to depression.
Now, we can manage our stress levels in a number of ways.
Firstly, self care can be employed. Self-care means taking measures to care for yourself on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It’s doing activities that help you unwind, relax and inspire you. It can be anything from taking a bubble bath, exercising, getting enough sleep, to taking cooking classes or doing rock climbing.
Next, is developing basic skills and techniques to manage and practice our defences against stress. Some of these can be breathing exercises, mindful meditation or grounding activities such as Yoga to center and root ourselves in the peaceful center of our daily lives.
Other than that, social support is an absolute necessity in a person’s life. We need support systems in our lives such as our friends that we can rely on and help us stay positive during trying times in our lives, and when nothing seems to work, it’s best to take a step back to weigh our options and seek professional help such as a therapist or counsellor. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re weak, but merely, we’re accepting that we need to see a new perspective, or, solution to a problem that we couldn’t otherwise have seen before.
DIFFERENTIATING “GOOD STRESS” & “BAD STRESS”
While we experience “bad stress,” it’s counterpart “good stress” also exists. The latter type of stress comes from going on a first date, being up for a work promotion, and going on a vacation amidst many things. “Eustress” as it’s called, motivates us, enables us to focus our energy, gives us a burst of excitement, and improves our work performance. Are you looking for ways to increase the good stress in your life? Well, look not further and keep reading on. It’s essential to know which activities in your life that get you happy and excited and to lessen the ones that drain you. A simple way to discern whether an activity is worthwhile to do is asking yourself whether you are truly excited about doing it and is this something you “want” to do or is it something you could live without doing? While it’s important to know the differences between activities that make you happy and those that make you feel stressed out, too much “good stress” can lead to “bad stress” as well so achieving a balance is crucial.
BENEFITS OF STRESS IN THE SHORT TERM
So, if you thought learning about “Eustress” was good… Well, there’s even more good news! Stress reaps benefits in the short term. Some of these include:
· Increased concentration and productivity
· Strengthens our immune system
· Boosts our resilience for future challenges
· Motivates us to succeed
As mentioned by Dr. Shelton on Health, “Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins. They strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain.” This is beneficial to our health is several ways.
Firstly, it amplifies brain power by increasing concentration and productivity. In addition to that, animal studies have been shown that it can also boost memory and learning scores for a limited time.
Secondly, it strengthens our body’s immunity – in the short term. “When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection,” says Dr. Shelton. “One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.”
Besides that, it increases our resilience for future challenges. Dealing with stressful situations helps us recover from difficult situations, while learning to manage the ones that lie ahead. It neutralizes both our physical and psychological response to stress and thereby increases our sense of control and composure.
Next, it drives you to succeed. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly and more productively.” Says Dr. Shelton. Changing the way you perceive challenges in life is another potent key point to solving and dealing with our daily stresses.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that although life can be a roller-coaster of emotions at times with many highs and lows, we have the power to react and handle it effectively especially during overwhelming moments of stress.
Written by Eve Bandusena, Editorial Assistant