Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. We can’t get rid of it entirely and we can’t live without it either. Some stress is even healthy for us, so the goal of managing stress isn’t to be completely without stress. We can’t completely avoid stress as stress is a physical natural response, but we can do our best to avoid situations that cause us the most stress and anxiety.
Stress has come to manifest itself through our health and has been linked to heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, depression, headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, gastric problems and slower healing to name a few. Living in the present time calls for a lot more pressure, demands, deadlines, frustration and disappointment but that is only looking at the glass as half empty.
Instead of stressing out, we can also choose to make stress work for us. Athletes constantly use their stresses to compete on a high level, so we too should learn to adopt some of those practices for our everyday lives. Let the little stresses in life urge you on, see it as a challenge rather than a threat, let it inspire you to do better. Remember that when constantly battling stress, our body suffers and we ultimately pay the price with our health.
It is best to know and recognize what causes your stress and either take those stressors out and deal with them or see them as challenges you want to overcome. Sometimes, just talking about it is like having the burden literally lifted from our shoulders. Reaching out for help is already a good sign that one has made the conscious decision to deal with stress. You must not allow it to consume you. By facing stress head on, you will come to realize that you are alive, for what is life if we are not to experience little bumps along the way.
Sources Of Stress
There are four key sources of stress in our lives:
- Environment—the environs we move around in have its own challenges and it is up to us to adjust. Environmental stressors include but are not limited to weather conditions, pollution (air, noise, traffic), crime.
- Society—the different roles we play in our society all have high demands that we are expected to meet. We need to fulfill our responsibility as parents, as spouses and as caregivers in our household. We are also bosses, employees and co workers in the workplace. Lest we forget, we are also friends, siblings and children to all else. At home, we are faced with the challenge of providing enough for the family, staying within budget, organizing the household. In the workplace, we are expected do our jobs on schedule, meeting deadlines, doing presentations and giving interviews.
- Physiology—changes in our body due to our physical makeup also play a big part in causing us stress. Examples of physiological stressors are adolescence, menstruation, menopause, illness, childbirth and ageing. These are all intrinsic to us as human beings. Our negative reaction to these stressors could even lead us to more stress like turning towards junkfood and living an inactive lifestyle.
- Thoughts—the way we think and perceive the things going on around us greatly affect how we deal with life in general. Our brain interprets our experiences as pleasant, painful, difficult or just downright stressful. We encounter a lot of challenges along the way but our mind gets to decide and determine if a particular challenge would prove to be a problem for us or not.
Types Of Stressors
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to any kind of demand. Negative circumstances that require a reaction from us are considered stressors. But stress isn’t always the villain we think it to be. It is just a normal reaction to something that we are not prepared for, to changes that necessitate us to respond.
We have what is called positive stress which is quite the opposite of distress or negative stress. However we normally relate stress to negative situations making us believe that stress is unhealthy, which is not really accurate.
You may ask, what then is positive stress? To explain it better, it is good to know what the qualities of positive stress are:
- It inspires and motivates
- It is short-term
- It is empowering
- It feels exciting
- It improves performance
In contrast, distress:
- Causes anxiety or unease
- Can either be short term or long term
- Is demeaning
- Feels unpleasant
- Hinders performance
- Leads to mental and physical problems
It is difficult to tag stressors as causing positive or negative stress due to the fact that people react differently to different situations. We can only generalize the common and normal response of most people, most of the time.
The following events are the more notorious causes of negative stress:
- Death of a loved one
- (Major/Chronic) Illness
- Job Loss
The following events are more likely positive stressors:
- Holiday Seasons
- Having a Child
- Receiving a Promotion
The Perception Of Stress
Several studies found that stress itself is not the problem, but rather a person’s reaction to stressors. This reaction becomes an indication of their health in the years to come regardless of their present health and exposure to stressors.
A study published in 2011 () seems to support this notion that the perception that stress affects one’s health is associated with adverse health outcomes. It showed that respondents who are under high stress and had the perception that stress affected their health are each associated with poor health and mental health. Thus the impact of a stressor is mediated by a person’s appraisal of that stressor.
Another study published in the European Heart Journal in 2013 () found that “People who believe that stress is having an adverse impact on their health are probably right, because they have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack”. The study found that people who believe stress is affecting their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn’t believe stress was having a significant effect on their health.
Being under stress is obviously not a good place to be in but it is something we cannot avoid altogether. We have to undergo and experience stress in our life, there is no escaping it. How we handle and get ourselves through stress is a different story.
We should be aware of the following to keep ourselves from reaching the point of being stressed out:
- Identify what causes stress in your life
- Avoid controllable stressors
- Set limits
- Try not to get overwhelmed
- Involve other people
- Be active
- Deal with stress positively
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If you feel you are under stress, think deep and ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What just happened? In most cases identifying a stressor is pretty straightforward; a bad relationship, horrible boss or health concerns. Keeping a daily journal to record when something causes you undue stress or anxiety can greatly help you to start seeing patterns. This allows you to recognize what causes your stress and as such you will be in a better position to plan ways to avoid it.
Avoid controllable stressors, if you know that grocery shopping on Monday evenings stresses you out because the lines are always so long, just reschedule your shopping day. You can change your shopping day much easier than you can change the number of people who also shop on Monday evenings.
Make sure to talk to your spouse, children, parents, friends, and coworkers and don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Let them know you’re trying to diminish the amount of stress you deal with, and ask for help when you need it. Be open to their advice and help. Quite possibly they have dealt with similar situations and can share their perspective or have information than can be of benefit to you.
Whenever you feel your stress levels rising, try to fill your mind with positive thoughts and experiences. Listen to music, call a friend who makes you laugh, think about a happy memory from the past or watch a funny video online. Over time you’ll learn to meet negativity with a more positive reaction. That´s a very good habit as people with positive attitudes are better able to cope with stress and anxiety, it’s a widely known fact that positive people live longer, healthier and happier lives than pessimistic, negative people.
References & Further Reading